You And I Make A Thing
Tune into You And I Make A Thing, where host Thomas Beutel and a guest make something they have never made before. Each episode starts with Thomas and his guest hashing out what they’ll create—be it a collaboration or each working solo toward the same artistic goal. In the latter half, they reflect on their experience of trying something new and conquering the unknown. Experience the power of starting from scratch, overcoming self-doubt, and embarking on a new creative journey.
6 days ago
6 days ago
6 days ago
In this episode I collaborate with artist Koi The Creatrix to make mini zines. The challenges we faced included our zines going missing in the mail for extended periods of time.
@koithecreatrix on Instagram
Koi’s monthly Postcard Club
@katcurio on instagram
@brattyxbre on youtube
@brattyxbre: Your Zine Sucks (And That's Okay)
Hedy Lamarr biography
Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk on multipotentiality
B0ardside Art Collective
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
Some of these links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
Mini Zine: "Who Am I?"
Mini Zine: Ren Soul
Thomas: My guest today is Koi the Creatrix. Koi is a mixed media artist who identifies as Japanese American and Queer. In her art, Koi engages in sociopolitical discourse. She enjoys using bright colors and bold patterns, invoking pop art vibes. Her exploration of emotional themes, coupled with her seemingly chaotic displays, offer a deeply personal feel. And her Instagram handle is @koithecreatrix. Welcome to the podcast, Koi.
Koi: Hi, thank you so much for having me, Thomas.
Thomas: Before we get started, I wanted to ask you, you just finished a solo exhibition. It was at the Taube Museum of Art in Minot, North Dakota, is that right?
Koi: The Taube Museum, yeah.
Thomas: The Taube Museum, thank you. Tell me how that went and also how you felt about it.
Koi: You know, it was absolutely nerve wracking leading up to it as I think all events that I participate in tend to be, a lot of nerves and getting everything prepared and making it a cohesive collection. One challenge I face as a mixed media artist is that pieces may not have like a single theme or even a single medium throughout all of the art.
And so it was a challenge to keep some commonality between all of the work. But it went over really well. I heard from the museum director that they received a ton of positive feedback, and the Taube Museum, I have to say, is like my artistic home base. This is the first space that I felt an artistic community and support for my work, and really for the first time, saw myself considered as an artist to someone outside of my family, you know.
Thomas: Oh, that's wonderful. Isn't that a wonderful feeling when that happens?
Koi: It was fantastic. And so I have very deep ties to the folks there.
Thomas: I want to follow up on that. Did you have trouble saying the A word? Meaning artist?
Koi: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely! Oftentimes I don't consider myself an artist, more of a creative. And I really resonate with… I'm racking my brain trying to remember the term, the people who are really into a lot of different activities. I know you identify closely with it as well.
Koi: I think as a multipotentialite, I can enjoy many different activities and there's never really a sense of sticking with anything for too long or developing what I would consider, perhaps incorrectly, as expertise.
And so there is definitely that imposter syndrome leading up to it. And even now, even after the show I'm like, “Was it good? Were they just saying that?”
Thomas: Yeah, another term that I like to use for multipotentialite is Renaissance Soul. And it actually was considered a good thing in the Renaissance to have many different interests and try many different things. So in some ways, this idea of niching down or specializing is more of a recent phenomenon in our culture.
So I've come to the conclusion that, at least for me, there's nothing wrong with dabbling here and tinkering there and trying this new and trying that new. And in fact, part of the reason that I'm doing this podcast You And With Make A Thing is for that exact reason, I like to try new things.
I like to do something that I've never done before because it feeds our curiosity and it feeds learning and it just feels wonderful.
Koi: It really does. I love learning new things. At times get frustrated with it. Absolutely, but it is so enjoyable. I tend to not like doing the same thing over and over and really do like some sort of variety.
Thomas: Well, I think that's a great segue into jumping right into what we want to do. And I know that I had asked you to come up with three things that you might like to do, and I've also come up with three things.
And, I was thinking we could do it one of two ways. We could either bounce back and forth, you say a thing, I say a thing.
Or, we could just say the three things, you know, you could say your three things, I could say my three things, and then have a discussion. Do you have a preference?
Koi: I think I like the back and forth.
Thomas: Let's do the back and forth.
Koi: Yeah. Yeah.
Thomas: Do you want to start or do you want me to start?
Koi: I am happy to go first.
Thomas: Okay. Yeah, what do you have?
Koi: So the first thing I came up with was a mini zine. And actually this idea comes from another artist who I've been seeing on Instagram. She's been sharing all of these how-to's about her zine making process,
Koi: It's been something I've wanted to do. And then every time I look at it, it looks so blank. I don't know where to start. And I had the idea that in the spirit of collaboration and in this show, we could possibly work on it together in a way that we could mail it back and forth via snail mail, possibly.
Thomas: Yeah. I like that.
Koi: Yeah and incorporate that as part of the art. I tend to like handwritten letters and postcards and I thought it could be really a cool way to create together from so far away.
Thomas: I think that's a fabulous idea. I like that.
Thomas: I have not done my own zines. It's actually been on my list. Now I have participated in, I've contributed to zines, but those were always like single articles or a picture or something like that. But actually creating a zine, I like that idea, that's fantastic.
Koi: Yeah, yeah, it's one of those things that it looks simple in theory and creating it is not too hard at all. I just find all the white space very intimidating. I'm not sure where to go next.
Thomas: Yeah, well I hear you on that.
Thomas: Alright, that's a great idea. Alright, let's go on to one of mine. I've always been fascinated by Rube Goldberg machines. You know, these things where you put dominoes and marbles do this, and then this flips, and that starts. And I was thinking about the collages you do, and it occurred to me that this is sort of like a collage in motion,
Thomas: And I've never done one before. I don't know, so the thing that I haven't come up with yet is like how this could be collaborative. You know, maybe we could prompt each other, we could say, find this item and incorporate it in the Rube Goldberg machine or something like that. So maybe that's how we could do it. But, anyway, that's sort of one of the things that was on my mind.
Koi: That is so cool. I've seen all sorts of videos of those kinds of machines. They look so intricate and the idea kind of excites me hearing about it. I'm like, it sounds almost impossible on this end, especially having a pretty nosy cat who will be bound to knock things
Koi: Such a cool idea.
Thomas: Alright. I'm curious have you watched PythagoraSwitch?
Koi: No, I haven't. Where is it available?
Thomas: NHK. It's on NHK.
Koi: I’m not familiar. You said put dagger?
Thomas: PythagoraSwitch. It's their name for Rube Goldberg machine, actually. They have this little thing called PythagoraSwitch Mini, which is like a five minute show. And they always introduce a show with a Rube Goldberg machine, and then they end the show with one.
Koi: Oh, very cool. Yeah. I'm so glad that you mentioned this because I guess for context, my dad's side of the family is from Japan. I had lost contact with them for a significant amount of my life. And so much of the Japanese elements in my art is like re-exploring that. And so this sounds like such a cool thing. It's totally a rabbit hole. I'm going to get lost now.
Thomas: Okay. Yeah. If you have a chance to go to YouTube and look up PythagoraSwitch.
Koi: Oh yeah. I already have a browser pulled up.
Thomas: Well, so speaking of that, I'm going to suggest my second one, which follows on the theme of Japan. There's this wonderful artist, his name is Iwasaki Tsuneo and he created these beautiful paintings all centered around the Heart Sutra. And the Heart Sutra basically says, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” the idea that nothing is separate from anything else.
And the way he did his paintings, he took the words of the Sutra, the Japanese characters of the Sutra, and used them to form the thing that he was painting. So imagine he painted lightning bolts, and the lightning bolts were the characters of the Sutra.
Or he painted the double helix of DNA, and the double helix was all the characters of the sutra. And he did beautiful paintings of the stars, and each star was a character of the Sutra.
I mean, it's just an incredible way of meditating on the Sutra itself, because as he's painting each character individually, he would then sort of think about what that word meant in the whole thing. And his goal was also to sort of meld science with the Sutra.
Thomas: And so I was thinking that maybe we could come up with something that's similar. Now I don't write Japanese, I don't know the characters, but I was thinking maybe we could come up with something similar that is a meditation on maybe a poem or something, becomes a painting of some sort.
Koi: Yeah. That sounds amazing. Like I think I was able to find some of his artwork here and it reminds me of another artist I came across recently who uses a typewriter for his paintings.
Thomas: Oh, yeah.
Koi: Have you seen that one?
Thomas: I have not… well, I've seen things pop up on Instagram, so I probably have seen it, yeah.
Koi: Right! The algorithm.
Koi: But I love the idea of it being a more focused, like phrase or sutra or what have you. It's an amazing concept.
Thomas: It's sort of like, you know, when you're in class and, well, I don't know if this happens now. But, you know, way back when, the teacher would say, “Okay, write I won't eat bubble gum in the classroom, and you have to write it 25 times on the chalkboard.”
Koi: Ah, yeah.
Thomas: It's, it's a little bit similar to that.
Koi: Yeah, yeah.
Thomas: All right. Well, that was my second item. What is your second item?
Koi: Uh, bookbinding, actually. I have had a sketchbook I want to rebind. I've had it for two or three years at this point and have been avoiding it. And so I thought it would be a good thing to bring here to work together on, or at least, have somebody hold me accountable to kind of figuring it out, doing something new. I think the newness of it is what is intimidating for me.
Thomas: Yeah, bookbinding is such an art in itself. And there's so many ways to bind a book. You know, what's funny is I'm thinking like, how does that get combined with a zine? And well, I don't think it does actually. But maybe, I don't know.
Koi: Right. I definitely feel like it could perhaps end up being combined with one of these other projects.
Thomas: Yeah, I agree. How about your next item? What's your third item?
Koi: So my third item was, you know, just kind of a random project I came across, that didn't have any maybe emotional significance for me, but it looked really cool. Something I wanted to try, which was I had come across a stained-glass kit in one of these craft stores, and I was like, hey, I've never done stained glass before.
But I think after talking to you, actually I would prefer for my third item to be maybe creating art around the prompt Renaissance Soul.
Thomas: Oh well, that's something. That's different!
Thomas: I love that. That's a great idea. I mean, it's a great prompt. It's of course near and dear to my heart.
Koi: Mm hmm.
Thomas: Okay, I need just a moment to integrate the impact of what you just said. That's something that never occurred to me before, to place that in sort of an artistic context.
Koi: I had never considered it before this either. But I think here, having this conversation with you, really reflecting on the word. I wrote it down in front of me here too, to save it for later.
I guess a fun fact about me, I have a pile of sticky notes of just things people have said, um, inspiring quotes I've come across that, I am just collecting. I have no idea what I'm going to do with them, but this was going to go in the pile.
And so I thought, why not, bring it up here? Kind of throw the name in the hat, in the ring. I forget how the saying goes.
Thomas: Throw the hat over the fence?
Koi: Sure. Yep.
Thomas: I have one more. I have my third item and it just seems so different than all the other items we've spoken about. But I'm a big fan of Joseph Cornell. He was an artist in New York in the 1930s, 40s. And he is famous for box assemblages. Basically it'd be a box and then he would put found objects in there.
And I was thinking that could be actually a very expansive, idea. So I was thinking of restricting it specifically to test tubes. And then we, you know, you could fill the test tubes with bright colors, paper or little beads or whatnot.
So the idea would be to create a Joseph Cornell-style box assemblage with test tubes.
And, if you go onto Amazon and type in test tube, you'll find you can buy 25 test tubes for 10 or something like that. They're not that expensive, so it's something that wouldn't be a big expense.
But I have this fascination with things inside bottles and test tubes and whatnot. So that's where that idea came from.
Koi: You know, it's amazing. I'm again, I'm a visual person. And so I pulled up, some of his artwork immediately and I love it. It looks like a collage in a box. Or like in school, the little, dioramas I used to make. And so it's a wonderful concept too. It feels, very intriguing. I like it.
Thomas: He was a very interesting artist. He hung around a lot of the Dada artists of the time. And yet he was his own genre, like nobody else was doing what he was doing. And he was also sort of a homebody. He lived with his mom and took care of her. And yet he was in New York in that milieu of those artists at the time.
And of course that was just after World War I and before World War II and very interesting. So, yeah, he did some really stunning work and it's very inspiring. And like you say, it is sort of like a three-dimensional collage in a way.
Koi: I really like it. This is so cool.
Thomas: Well, we have six things and you know, feel free. We can combine a couple if we want.
I have to say the first one, the mini zine and mailing back and forth is sounds really exciting to me.
Thomas: I'd love getting something in the mail and having something tactile to work with.
Koi: Mm hmm.
Thomas: And I've been always I've always wanted to do a zine myself. So if we could do something in collaboration, that'd be great.
Koi: Yeah. Yeah. I'm glad because I knew this narrowing down part was going to be the hardest part of this, for me. Because I really do like all of these ideas. They all sound so cool in their own way.
But yeah, there's something about like receiving something in the mail that it, it feels special and wonderful.
Thomas: And the one thing I was thinking of is that we might look at Tsuneo's work where he meditated on the Heart Sutra. Maybe we can come up with something, and we don't have to do this now, but maybe we could come up with something as a meditation, or as a… I'm trying to think of how to phrase this.
Koi: Mm hmm.
Thomas: Maybe something of the nature of, like, a deconstructed poem, or something like that we could then use in creating the zine.
Koi: Mm hmm. What would you think about using that term, Renaissance Soul?
Thomas: Oh, there you go. Oh, perfect.
Koi: Yeah. Okay.
Thomas: Yes. Hey!
Koi: This is much easier than I thought it would be.
Thomas: We have our idea!
Koi: Okay. Oh, I'm excited! Yeah, that came together so nicely.
Thomas: Yeah, it did. Wow, okay! I I'm excited.
Koi: Oh, yeah, I'm beyond excited here. I'm ready to start working and doodling and I don't even know.
Thomas: So Koi, we will be in touch by email and whatnot for all the logistics.
Thomas: But thank you for this. Thank you for your offerings and suggestions. I'm over the moon, really. This is going to be fun.
Koi: I'm so excited to hear that. I really am. I was hoping that we would find a project that we could both be really excited about and it sounds like we did that.
Thomas: Yeah. This is great. Thank you.
Koi: Yeah. Thank you.
In just a few moments, Koi and I will return to talk about our mini zine making project.
Thomas: Koi, welcome back!
Koi: Thank you so much. It's good to be here again.
Thomas: Yeah. This project has been amazing! It's even been sort of a rollercoaster and probably not for the reasons that we thought it might be a rollercoaster, but I'm so glad we did this.
I love the fact that we mailed each other the zines and we're able to work with with each other's art. I mean that was just really fantastic.
Koi: I thought it brought such a unique quality to it to actually be able to hold somebody else's work and appreciate it in a different way. I think so much of my world is digital that I really love having something physical here to examine and it really did help feel help me feel more connected to you throughout this project.
Thomas: Yeah, likewise. Why don't we do this? Why don't we describe what we created? I'll have you describe yours the one that you have in your hand there.
Thomas: I will definitely post pictures of our zines on the show notes for this episode on youandimakeathing.com, but go ahead and describe, the one that you have in your hand.
Koi: Sure. So this one is just a, let's see, six page mini-zine or soon to be mini-zine. And I found the folding directions from @katcurio on Instagram. They're actually a very wonderful creator and specialize in mini zines. And so I use their tutorial here. And so this zine starts in black and white with the question of “Who am I?” on the front and as you flip through there are such colorful pages everything just burst into life.
As you flip through it says “I am curious. I am creative. I am playful. I am passionate. I am a Renaissance Soul.”
And at the end we have a nice reminder here that says the world needs your renaissance soul, and each page has different photos related to, I suppose, the adjective, curious, creative, playful, passionate. There is a ton of collage throughout this. And then I've also included some of my many stamps of floppy disks and N64 controllers and Tamagotchis.
Thomas: That's great. And I think we should state that is all analog collage.
Koi: Yes. Yes. Everything was made by hand, for both of these.
Thomas: Yeah, I turned out really, really great. I had a lot of fun doing my part. A little bit later I'll talk about the sort of the process that I went through in filling in some of the pages. But I want to talk about my zine a little bit…
Thomas: …which I don't have in my hand, because it's still in the mail. Unexpectedly still in the mail.
Koi: I think that's been the big surprise is just the mailing time and turnaround for some of these.
Thomas: Right. But roughly speaking, what I did is I created something called an accordion zine. So it's a little bit different. It sort of folds out as a large accordion. And so it has many little pages. On the cover page, I found two dancers. And it just struck me as something that speaks to the idea of a Renaissance Soul the expressions that they had and the way they were dancing.
So on that title page, I was looking for the words Renaissance Soul, and I have like a stack of magazines that I keep for collaging.
And what I managed to find was Ren Soul, so that's what that cover page looks like.
Koi help me remember some other pages. I know there one page I had to like a mind map that sort of said, here's all kinds of different projects that we were both working on. There's a page with a with an everything bagel because for some reason I thought, “Oh, Renaissance Soul is like a like an everything bagel,” you know from the movie. And then I did one of those, uh, what do you call it?
Koi: Venn diagram.
Thomas: Oh, the Venn diagram. Thank you. And on Instagram you get a lot of these sort of prompts like Inktober, where you're given all that and I thought, well, let's do a little list of things that remind me of being a multipotentialite. What else was there?
Koi: So I added a mini crochet page where I made tiny granny squares and figured out how to adhere them in place of a page actually.
Thomas: Oh, okay.
Koi: The funny thing about that to me was that, not only did I make the smallest crochet project I have ever made to date, I also did a bit of bookbinding there in a way, which was one of our original ideas, one of the ideas I tossed out. And figured out how to kind of sew it into the project.
Koi: And then I added this little spiral that says, “Everything, everywhere, all at once”, which I think was inspired by the everything bagel because sometimes that's very much what being a multipotentialite feels like.
Thomas: Mm hmm.
Koi: Creating all of the things. And for me, a lot of times the ideas come all at once.
Thomas: Mm hmm. Yep. I have that experience, too.
Thomas: Oh, Koi, I am so looking forward to getting that one in the mail. I looked at the postage tracking this morning, and it's in San Francisco, but it hasn't arrived yet. So I'm either getting it today or in a couple days and we'll see what happens, but I'm really looking forward to it.
Koi: I'm very excited for you to receive it.
Thomas: Yeah. I'm wondering, how did you feel when, when we started this project? I know we sort of started with like a lot of energy.
Koi: Yeah. You know, I'm glad that you asked that because actually I realized after we hung up from recording the first, part of this podcast, I was feeling a bit self-conscious, a bit nervous, feeling like maybe I said the wrong things, or maybe I squashed some ideas that you were really excited about. And it felt like a bit of a bummer for me to walk away, that I might have discouraged somebody else's creativity.
And I think throughout this process, just exchanging messages with you, getting to know you a bit better, that self-consciousness melted away. And I was really able to, trust in the process and also trust that you would let me know if there was something that you were passionate about.
And I think that's always a challenge is to trust in someone else to communicate their feelings and their thoughts.
Thomas: I like that. There's also a little bit of letting go, which is what I was feeling. Like, when you wrote back, you wrote back just a couple days after we recorded the first session, and you'd said, “It's in the mail.” I thought, “It's in the mail already?! Oh, no, I got to get going, you know?”
And so I was sort of rushing through it and I made a little mind map. I thought, okay, what do I want to do? So I just made a quick mind map. I got all these ideas for the different pages, like you said, the Venn diagram and the mind map and the bagel and all that. And then I put it in the mail.
And I let go. Like I said, okay, this is it. You know, whatever happens with it happens. So I like that what you're alluding to is that there's a putting trust in, but also a sort of a little bit of letting go.
Koi: Absolutely, I think being able to let go of control is such a difficult thing for us humans, and those of us with anxiety or other experiences as well. It's that bit of letting go, allowing what happens to unfold and being okay with whatever the outcome is.
Thomas: What, what would you say was the most difficult part of all of this?
Koi: That's a good question. I think sometimes the anxiety that came up for me was perhaps the most unpleasant part. Anxiety is something that I'm quite familiar with.
And I would say it came up in two different ways for me. One was Looking at the blank pages and saying, “Oh, my gosh, where do I even start?”
It felt like initially, I felt a lot of pressure to tell a story to make something cohesive or linear, and that's not quite how my brain works. And so I had to recognize those messages that I was telling myself and set them aside so that I could just start somewhere.
And funny enough, I think that meant that I started with the last page of, the first zine at least and it was, I realized that there was a lot of pressure that like I was just putting on myself in these situations to create a finished product and like jump to the end of the process, rather than just being in the moment and allowing things to come up, as allowing the creativity to flow.
Thomas: Yeah. I had this experience of… you had sent yours and I also had sort of had that blank page syndrome. And the way that I do my creative work is I set aside a couple of hours from 7 to 9 a. m. before I do my client work.
And so this one particular morning I had set basically, okay, I have everything set up, I have my mat board, I have, you know, whatever it is, but I didn't have the idea yet, right? And when I think about multipotentialites, I also think a lot of role models and people, and the one that I was go back to is Hedy Lamarr.
Thomas: And, she was a fairly famous actress in the 1940s. Her passion actually was in inventing. She invented, with a musician friend of hers, she invented this idea of using player pianos to shift the frequency of the radio signal for torpedoes so that they couldn't be jammed by the enemy.
Koi: Oh wow.
Thomas: And they even came up with a patent and submitted it to the Navy and all that kind of stuff. She also worked with Howard Hughes and developed the swept wing aircraft or developed ideas for the swept wing aircraft. She was really into the inventing
But because she was put in this box of most beautiful woman in the world. Because that's what Hollywood was wanting from her, right? And so nobody wanted to hear all of her other ideas and stuff like that. So it's actually a little bit of a tragic story.
She did finally get recognized late in life in the 1990s for her contribution to what's now called spread spectrum radio frequencies, this frequency hopping thing is what is used in Wi-Fi.
Koi: How amazing.
Thomas: Like when we turn on Wi-Fi, that comes in part from the work that she did.
So I was thinking, getting back to the zine, I was thinking, Oh, you know, I'd like to have her and maybe, you know, some others and, and all that kind of stuff.
And I was just about to sit down and think about how I was going to do that. And I opened up the part that you did, which is Renaissance Soul and it's beautiful, colorful collage of different styles of letters. The first thing that came up for me, it's like, “Who am I? What is a Renaissance Soul?”
And within like five minutes, I had the whole thing figured out. Right? So within a few minutes, it's like, oh, now I know what I'm doing here.
So sometimes those ideas just come, they're like magic. They just come from from the ether somewhere.
So I was really happy how that came together… a little sad that I didn't have Hedy Lamarr anywhere in our zines, but you know, there's always a future. We can always make more zines. Right?
Koi: I'm so glad that you say that because sometimes just getting myself to sit down and just start can be the toughest part. And what you're saying here makes me think that everything will come as long as you sit down, and I was so grateful for the work that you did in this first zine because it really felt like it made it a cohesive little story here about being a Renaissance Soul, and it was something that, as I said, I struggled to kind of organize in my mind initially and I just think it.
It was really lovely to see how it came together and how you tied in so many of our ideas and so many so much of like my experience as a Renaissance Soul here, of being multifaceted, having so many different interests.
Like there's this page that has gaming and dance on it. And I just love that because gaming is actually a big part of my life and it's something I thoroughly enjoy.
Thomas: I was delighted when I found those pieces in my in the magazines I was looking through. So, it's like, yes, let's do this. You know, what does “I am playful” mean, right? There are so many ways of looking at it.
Thomas: I do want to talk about the emotional rollercoaster. At least, the emotional rollercoaster that I experienced and that had to do with the mail. So what happened was, you had sent yours off and it was coming in a few days, which it did. It came within five days or something like that. And I thought, “Oh, I gotta do mine!”
So I made my little mini accordion zine. and because it was so small, I just sent it in a little envelope with a card and put a stamp on it. I weighed it, it was like point seven ounces or something like that. It only needs one stamp, right? First class letter. And, you know, a first-class letter in the U. S. should arrive within three to five days, right?
And so it was, seven days, it was eight days, it was ten days, and you had told me, “I haven't received it yet.”
And I'm like, “Oh no!” And I felt so sad that, that…
Koi: A lot of grief for that lost work.
Thomas: Yeah, there was a lot of grief. And the other thing was, again, because I was rushing, I didn't take any pictures of it. So I had no record of what I had created.
After 13 days of this, I said, “Koi, I'm going to just remake it, and this time I'm going to use a bigger piece of paper.” I used 11 by 17 and made the same accordion style.
And I tried to remember what I had made. And there are things that I missed, like I totally forgot. So I drew a little pencil drawing of Blathers, which is from Animal Crossing. And I totally forgot that I did that. And I think I forgot the Venn diagram.
I did remember the bagel. So I had fun drawing the bagel again. I think my second Bagel was better than the first bagel. Partly because it was larger.
And so I walked it to the post office. The post office is about a half a mile from where I live here. And then as I was walking back, I checked my phone, and you said, “Guess what arrived?”
Koi: Oh, funny. Okay, I didn't realize you had just dropped it off.
Thomas: I had literally just dropped it off five minutes before I got your message. And I'm going, “Oh!”, but then it's like, okay, it's fine. It's all good. No worries.
But that was an emotional rollercoaster. And now, with this latest one, I mean, it's coming back, right? That accordion zine has some strange magic about, it just does not want to go fast through the mail.
Koi: It does not. I included the original in there as well to send back to you. And so I wonder if that was the small one was the one that monkeyed with the shipping delays.
Thomas: I think so, because you sent this latest mail to me, you sent it about ten days ago. And it's almost here.
But that is something I did not expect. I did not expect to feel all those emotions for, you know, something that was missing. And you mentioned, there was a lot of grief around it, too. And then the elation and excitement that it actually finally did arrive. And all that.
So I'm really happy that it did arrive. I'm looking forward to seeing them once they arrive here, especially with the crocheting that you did and the bookbinding, I really like that.
Koi: Yeah, I felt very pleased with what I was sending back. You know, I think there was an emotional rollercoaster for me as well. I know I mentioned there was two pieces that caused me a bit of anxiety and the second one might be similar to something you said earlier here, in that I felt a lot of self-induced pressure to hurry up and get it back to you.
And I think there were moments where I felt guilty for holding on to one of the zines for too long. Or, actually, especially when I wasn't contributing to it, when I wasn't working on it, knowing that I was avoiding it because I felt unsure where to start and feeling like that was somehow taking away from our process.
And it's interesting because it sounds like we both kind of experienced that pressure of like, oh man, I got to hurry up and get this back to them.
And I would probably say that at no point in time did we communicate that, you know, you need to get it back by a certain date or you need to hurry on this, but, it sounds like we both put those pressures on ourselves a bit.
Thomas: Right, right. I've always maintained and insisted with this project that I do called You and I Make A Thing that I don't want to ever feel pressure and I don't want my guests to ever feel pressure.
And yet here we are, you know, feeling pressure. It's human, you know, it's what we do.
But I really do, feel that one of the things about collaborating this way, especially in this sort of collaboration, we're doing this for the joy of it. You know, we're doing it because we want to do it, not because we have to do it.
And I want more of that, really. You know, I would love to have more collaborations where that sort of pressure feeling is not there.
Koi: Right. You know, I will totally agree in that sense, working on this project with you. I've very much wanted more collaborations and more time working with other artists. And so I've actually reached out to a few and have started other collab projects here, just in the spirit of building community and working with other people and building those connections.
Because I think it really was a beautiful thing that came out of this project, being able to build this sort of friendship with you.
And even connect over Animal Crossing. I can't begin to say how much I enjoyed that.
Thomas: I did too. So we both shared our dream addresses in Animal Crossing, for listeners that know what that is. And we just had a blast visiting each other's island. It was great. It really was.
Koi: It's delightful. It's a way to create that, I think takes off a lot of pressure for me and still kind of lets me problem solve in those fun ways that creating can bring.
Thomas: Yeah. You mentioned that you got your ideas from @katcurio. I did the same. I looked up @katcurio's tutorials on how to fold and things like that.
And in the process YouTube recommended me some other zine creators. And the one that I found really compelling was a person named Breahna, who's in Long Beach.
Thomas: Their YouTube channel is @brattyxbre, and I'll put this in the show notes. She has a whole bunch of different YouTubes on making zines, just wonderful tutorials. Tutorials on also how to think about it, and the one that really helped me a lot was her tutorial that was Your Zine Sucks (And That's Okay).
Koi: I like it.
Thomas: The point that she was making there was, like, just go do it and you know, you're gonna feel that imposter syndrome and those feelings of it's not good enough.
And just go do it and just, sit with those feelings and go create because they point out, like, you need to get practice. You need to do a lot of them to get there.
Now for me and I'm imagining, Koi, for you too, this is sort of like a first exploration of mini zines. But love the idea, and I can totally see, like, I'm into storytelling, and can totally see how this would be a great way to tell little mini stories.
Koi: Yeah, you know, since we started these zines, I know we both started them because we had never actually made zines. And since doing them, I've made a couple, I want to say two or three perhaps, where I've just been able to get down some of my thoughts and experiences, tell little stories. And I can't tell you how much I've actually enjoyed the process of just getting it down on paper.
And the ones I've made are just on regular U. S. letter printer paper kind of stuff. And perhaps one day I will turn them into digital printable zines. But I do thoroughly enjoy this process. And I know that you have been out there creating zines as well.
Thomas: I contribute to a zine. I'm part of an artist collective here and we promote local artists and musicians by having backyard shows. And whenever we have a show, we print a new zine. So, I have definitely contributed to zines. Little short stories and illustrations and things like that.
But this is the first time that I've actually made my own, and I already have some ideas. Even for the art collective in terms of mini zines that we could have.
The zines that we put together are actually multi page, they're larger format, and we sell them for ten bucks each. They're full color.
But I can also see selling a little mini zine for a buck or something like that, with, whatever little message that we want to put in.
So how do you feel now that we've completed this?
Koi: I felt relieved to know that at least one of the zines is done and where it needs to be. I think initially I felt a bit of grief for the process to be over and to not have this thing to connect with you about, but I think that grief has subsided a little bit since there is still one lingering in the mail.
Thomas: Yeah. For me this just exceeded my expectations, you know. I went into this like, oh, we're going to make a mini-zine and I just didn't know what, what was going to come out of it.
And, you know, the fact that we sort of combined collaging and the Renaissance Soul idea, which is very near and dear to my heart. And the collaborative aspect, it just, it totally exceeded my expectation.
So did you learn anything about yourself by doing this?
Koi: That's a great question. You know, I think just through this conversation, I'm recognizing the pressures that I put on myself and how that can contribute to feelings of anxiety at times. I am also learning a lot about how my brain works in creating and organizing ideas and information, in that it can be a bit of a tough process for me.
And sometimes I think I just need to get it out on paper, put something down, and start from there before I try to organize and plan ahead.
And so I suppose the pieces that I've learned about myself are around some of that executive functioning and maybe some limits around that.
Thomas: Yeah, for me, I think keep practicing patience, and not try to rush anything. And also just trust in the process. I mean, not just trusting in my partner, which is you, but also trusting in the creative process.
You know, that thing that happened where I was going to do one thing and all of a sudden, the whole idea just manifested itself within five minutes? That was really eye opening to me. It's like, oh, wow, look at how this just unfolded just so fast and so nicely and I'm learning to just trust that that will happen,
Koi: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think the, other thing that I learned in this process was just how much connecting with other people means to me,
As an introvert, as someone who has really shied away from people for fear of perhaps judgment or what have you, I did not expect to get so much sense of fulfillment and joy from connecting with another creator and just working on something together. It felt like a very precious experience for me.
Thomas: Yeah, I agree. This is the first You And I Make A Thing where I actually shared my work over the mail, in other words, where I actually collaborated in a deeper way. The other ones so far have been, you know, we come up with an idea and we both do that idea. And sometimes whatever the idea is doesn't lend itself to sending to each other or whatever.
But what this really pointed out to me is, this is a lot of fun and it's so rewarding. It's rewarding to get something in the mail and it's physical and actually held it in your hand. And then, well, feel the pressure of having to do something with it. There's so many emotions wrapped into it.
But I love it. I'm really happy. I'm really happy with how this turned out.
Koi: And I think I've learned that I enjoy mail, receiving mail, sending mail so much. And it's led me to engage in sending more things by mail, more postcards, and those sort of things. And so it's actually helped me to find my happy place when it comes to creating.
Thomas: Koi, you've just started a postcard of a month. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Koi: Yeah, absolutely. I am not quite sure where I got the idea, perhaps just by following other creators and joining threads, actually. I was reminded by this experience and by a platform called Post Crossing. Post Crossing is just a site where you get randomly connected to other people who would like to send and receive postcards around the world.
And so I suppose I realized like just how much I enjoyed writing and sending and receiving these kinds of things. And so I opened up a membership on Kofi. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly, but the idea is that I will print unique postcards at once a month and send them out to whoever signs up.
And so they get a piece of mail with a unique design, each month. And this month I have a black cat with the zoomies, and over the cat it says chaos should be regarded as extremely good news, which is, a favorite quote of mine from Pema Chödrön. Her book called When Things Fall Apart.
Thomas: Oh, that's great. I've signed up and so I'm really looking forward to it. Your prints, when you're saying printing, you're doing block printing or like stamps?
Koi: Yeah, so I do block printing. I use, I forget the kind of stamp here, but essentially I carve the design out myself, ink it, and then press it on Strathmore postcard papers.
Thomas: Right, that's a great idea. I will put a link to your postcard page on Kofi, or whatever it's called. And so listeners, if you're interested, you can just check out the show notes and you can get a link to that.
Koi: Thank you so much.
Thomas: Well, Koi, this has been wonderful. I can't express enough how much I've enjoyed this and how exciting it was to co-create with you and to actually, like I said, get like a physical piece of art in the mail that I could work with. It was really good.
Koi: Yeah, this was such a pleasure. I'm glad that we got this and perhaps we will make another thing at some point down the road.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. Let's do that.
Tuesday Sep 12, 2023
Tuesday Sep 12, 2023
Tuesday Sep 12, 2023
In this episode I collaborate with artist Michael Tarnoff to make self-portraits inspired by Chuck Close.
O'Hanlon Center for the Arts
Michael Tarnoff's Instagram
Chuck Close Website
Wikipedia Entry for Chuck Close
Procreate for the iPad
Interlude music: https://www.heise.de/select/ct/2017/13/1497796312321798
Michael's Self Portrait
Thomas' Self Portrait
Thomas: My guest today is Michael Tarnoff. Michael is a painter, a mixed media artist, as well as a photographer and all-around creative person. Welcome Michael.
Michael: Thank you for having me Thomas.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm glad to have you, Michael. I'm curious, before we get started, I'm want to know if there's some creative project that you've been working on or you're planning to work on right now?
Michael: Well, you know with COVID, things changed for me artistically as far as access to my painting space and such, and I've been doing more photography and small works. And right now, we're in the mountains in the Utah area and I've been fascinated with ice and snow and cold and what happens with nature with that.
So I've been thinking about, in the back of my mind, a series of photographs and just thinking about them as a series of what nature does in the cold. Because I never really lived in the cold and witnessed it.
Michael: There's just fascinating things like when the fog comes in and then the cold comes in. If there's just the right amount of humidity, ice crystals form everywhere and it looks, it's just, it's magic.
So I'm just kind of keeping my eyes open for that and just being witness to the magic that nature creates.
Thomas: Well that's great, that sounds like a real process of discovery.
Michael: It is, it is. I love that you say that because where I got most of my art learning from, not so much teaching but learning I'll call it, was at O'Hanlan Center for the Arts in Mill Valley. And the founder Ann O'Hanlan, one of my favorite sayings of hers was, “Exploration comes first, discovery perhaps later.”
Michael: And it’s just, it's so true when it comes to art and life.
So it's really, this really is a process of exploration and discovery, with, I mean the medium is nature and the cold and what, how it's so much different from the temperate Bay Area.
Thomas: Right, right.
Thomas: And I've been following you on Instagram, and your photographs have been just brilliant.
Michael: Thank you.
Thomas: For my listeners, I'll put a link to Michael's Instagram in the show notes. Well, exploration I think is a good segue into what we're going to be doing today, which is You And I Make A Thing. And as you know, what my goal here is to come up with something that we can do together, either something that we do in parallel or something that we actually collaborate on.
And Michael, prior to our conversation today, I've asked you to come up with three things that you might be interested in doing, and I've done the same. And what I was thinking of is that we'd just bounce back and forth with our ideas and then we'll see if we can coalesce on something that sounds like fun.
How about that?
Michael: That sounds great.
Thomas: Why don't you start with something that's on your list.
Michael: Okay. Let me preface it with saying that when you asked me to think of these things, it actually was harder than I thought it was going to be. And I couldn't because I'm just I'm so spontaneous with my art. I actually never think about what I want to do ahead of time and just sort of let the process flow with that in that moment.
Michael: I mean, I might know ahead of time I'm going to draw just because of, you know, whatever's happening.
Michael: So this was, this was very different for me. So the first thing I thought of, and these were all things, at least a couple of 'em were things that I've always thought about, but I have never done.
Thomas: Uh huh.
Michael: The first one was doing encaustic painting. Which is painting with paint that is mixed with wax and it sort of creates, on like a panel, it creates this dreamy kind of thing.
And I've never done it before. I don't know how to do it. and I don't even know if it's practical, but it was the very first thing I thought of because I've always wanted to try it.
Thomas: So I do follow a number of artists and I've seen a number of encaustic paintings, and they are sort of dreamy. They're sort of lots of different colors flowing and mixing. And that's what you're talking about, right?
Michael: Right. I mean, you can do realistic stuff. I'm not a realistic painter, but one could do that with encaustic painting. But it just sounds like so much fun. I it would be quite an exploration and discovery process.
Thomas: So I'm curious, is the wax hot?
Michael: Yes. Yes.
Thomas: Oh, it's hot. Oh it's hot wax. Okay. Interesting. And then you're mixing maybe like oil paints or something?
Michael: Yeah. I think, or acrylic. I don't, I actually have no idea. I think you can do acrylic, may have to wear a mask.
Thomas: I would imagine. Yes. It sounds interesting.
Thomas: I mean, I love sort of dreamy and very colorful palettes and drawings and, they don't need to be realistic at all. I just, I don't know about you Michael, but I really respond to color a lot.
Michael: Yeah, I'm a colorist. Yeah.
Thomas: Yeah. All right, well let's bookmark that one and let's see where this goes. So on my list, I've been fascinated with assemblage. You know, like box assemblage, Joseph Cornell type.
Thomas: And I've noticed that there are at least a couple artists out [00:06:00] there that are doing, I guess what they call small box assemblage. They'll take, these little boxes that your iPhone comes in, or even smaller, like little jewelry boxes and then using found art, they'll put an assemblage together.
Michael: Oh, wonderful.
Michael: I've dabbled in that a tiny bit, maybe one or two in my Saturday art class at the center over the 20 plus years that I was there. And it was fun.
Thomas: It's an interesting process to use found art as opposed to, I guess the best way to put it is, is like starting with an idea.
Thomas: It's that exploration thing really. It's like, okay, let's see what happens here.
Michael: Mm-hmm. Oh, love it.
Thomas: What's, what's next on your list?
Michael: Okay. My next one is, I've never worked with Sculpey Clay.
Thomas: Uh huh.
Michael: I've felt it and played with it, but I've actually never [00:07:00] taken it, sculpted something out of it, baked it, and then painted it.
Michael: As simple as that sounds, I've never done it and I think it would really bring out my child, and my adult at the same time to kind of co-create something, again abstract.
But, I even looked into like, can you buy bulk kind of uncolored sculpey and you can. So simple but kind of.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, I played with clay but I've never fired anything before or hardened it before. So that sounds interesting. And then, you know, and not painted it after.
Michael: Right, and that's the beauty of Sculpey is that you can… I guess I maybe you might even be able to paint it beforehand, I don't know. But you harden it in the oven. So it's, you don't need a kiln to do it.
Thomas: Right, exactly. I like that. All right,[00:08:00] well, my next one is not very well defined. The note that I have here is mail art collage. The idea is to combine the idea of mail art and collaging together. So it might be just a collage postcard, or something that we put in an envelope and then just send to each other
Michael: Oh, that's fun.
Thomas: Yeah. Maybe as almost like a call and response type of thing.
Michael: Oh my goodness. Huh. You know, that I could envision doing it together where you start one and then you send it, partially completed.
Michael: And then you respond and we go back and forth.
Thomas: Uh huh
Thomas: Maybe like a little folded book where the pages are things that we fill in with collage. Or [00:09:00] like a zebra fold? Not no, what's the name? Where they, where you fold it? Accordion! Like an accordion fold. That's what I meant. Yeah.
Thomas: Oh, okay.
Michael: Yeah. I don't know. It sounds like a neat idea.
Thomas: Alright. What's the last one on your list?
Michael: All right. Hopefully you know the artist, Chuck Close?
Thomas: I don't, no. Tell me.
Michael: He did self-portraits, huge self-portraits, and what he did was he narrowed down and magnified into little, he would make a little grid pattern. So maybe it would be a nine-foot by six-foot self-portrait. Right. But he would make grids that were maybe one inch by one inch, or two inch by two inch. And he would zoom in on the photograph and see what the swirl pattern or color pattern might look like.
Michael: And he would paint that in each little box. And so he would, [00:10:00] he would abstract. Build this grid with swirls and colors, and then when you step back, it became a portrait.
Michael: Which was, I was always fascinated by it. And I thought that would be fun to do, like self-portraits of each other.
Michael: And you know, obviously we're not going to do nine by seven feet, so maybe a nine by 12, or something that can be mailed easily.
Thomas: Right, right.
Michael: But you can get a small grid on a nine by 12 and just kind of zoom in on a photograph and instead of drawing, as though you're drawing a face, you just draw what's in that grid, the kind of the shapes and the colors as best you can, and then you move on to the next.
And then you sort of end up with, you know, it's not always going to be this pretty image, which is kind of fun. Not all of his were either, he celebrated the ones that were kind of goofy looking too.
Michael: So his last name is [00:11:00] C L O S E, first name Chuck. I highly recommend you Google him and see if we do it this time or not.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, I will.
Michael: But that would be fun.
Thomas: I've been playing with Procreate on the iPad and I can totally see how you could have the the photo, then have another layer that is the grid, and then you just pinch open and then have another layer where you then do the drawing in in different brushes and different whatever.
Michael: Oh, I love that! I would actually love to know how to do that too, because I don’t know how to mix photo and drawing together in digital format.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. And actually, I mean, I'm just thinking about this. This is something that we could share easily over email, right? Or file sharing or whatever to get going.
Okay. Well, I'm chuckling a [00:12:00] little bit because my last one is like somewhat related and I don't even know what I was thinking here.
I just wrote down the words wild selfies and I guess the image that comes to mind is like, yeah, I live 20 minutes from the beach, so I'd probably go down on the beach and just, you know, wild poses or jumps up in the air. I don't know what it might be
Michael: Hmm, that's fun.
Michael: You know, I mean, we can each expand on that too. But I want to throw this into the mix just for you and the listeners. I've been on Instagram, there's some amazing artists on Instagram. I really just use Instagram for following artists. And there are a group, many photographers who do what's called Intentional Camera Movement.
Michael: And they purposely move their. [00:13:00] To create visual effects.
Thomas: Oh, right.
Michael: And there are some that are, I mean, they're like gorgeous abstract paintings. They're so beautiful.
Thomas: They're holding the shutter open. Is that what they're doing?
Michael: I'm not sure, I generally only take photographs with my iPhone because even though I have very nice equipment, the phone just fits in my pocket and I usually take photographs when I go hiking.
Thomas: The iPhone is so good actually.
Michael: It's actually quite good. The only way I've been able to do it is at night when the iPhone has a longer exposure and I can play with moving it.
So you kind of, there would be some exploration into how do you get enough light, but not too much light and, but those would be some wild selfies for sure. That would be fun to try.
Thomas: Yeah. Well, I think we have six fantastic ideas and, and I felt a lot of energy around all of 'em.
Thomas: So I'm [00:14:00] curious now, what, which one did you feel a lot of energy around in particular? I have one that I did.
Michael: I think the one that I got the most energy around as much because I think it combined a couple of what we talked about and the ease of sharing was this idea of these sort of Chuck Close style wild painted selfies using Procreate.
Thomas: I agree.
Michael: And we can share, you know, constantly in progress sharing and it's, it's digital makes it very easy to do it. Since I'm, you know, we're 800 miles apart so.
Thomas: I totally agree. That's the one that I just felt, “Wow, okay.” That's something that I've never done before. And I can totally see, I can already visualize how I might be doing it, at least, for me working on Procreate on the iPad. Do, do you have Procreate?[00:15:00]
Michael: I don't, but I suppose I can get it, so yeah.
Thomas: Yeah, it's not, it's not that expensive. I think it's just, if I remember right, I think it's just $9.95 or something like that.
Michael: I can definitely get it.
Thomas: Wow, Michael, this went really quick, which I'm delighted about, and I'm also just, I'm just excited about how all of these ideas were really good.
Thomas: I mean, I definitely was sort of imagining something I might be making in Sculpey. And the encaustic painting sounds very interesting as well. But, I think we found something that is actually really exciting here.
Michael: I do too. And as a tangent, you know, this could be expanded to many people. Where you take any photograph and it could be a photograph of somebody that we don't even know, and you divide it into nine. So you would need nine different people, you know about it in nine [00:16:00] sections.
And then each person takes that and they have to be exactly the same size and that each person takes that. And then we all agree on the size of the grid that we're going to use. And then we each do one ninth and all our focus is on our little piece, and then you bring them all together and see how they form.
Thomas: It's like a quilt
Michael: A lot of fun too. Yes. That's a lot of fun too.
Thomas: Thank you for this offer. I'm going to go and look up Chuck Close now and see what he's come up with.
Michael: Oh, for sure. Yeah.
Thomas: All right. Very good. we'll be in touch as far as the logistics and all that kind of stuff.
Michael: I'm looking forward to it, Thomas.
Thomas: In just a moment. I'll return with Michael. To talk about how we did. On our Chuck close portrait adventure.
(Editor’s note. The musical interlude was performed in Sonic Pi and was created by Pit Noack. The complete code listing is available here: https://www.heise.de/select/ct/2017/13/1497796312321798 )
Thomas: Well, hello Michael. How's it going?
Michael: I'm well Thomas, how are you?
Thomas: I'm doing great. I have to say I had such a great time with this You And I Make A Thing and creating a self-portrait on the iPad. It was a very interesting experience.
Michael: Yes, I could wax away about my experience with it, highs and lows, but I can go into more detail about it, but it was fun.
Thomas: Let me read to you a quote from Chuck Close. He was interviewed by Cleveland, Ohio's The Plain Dealer newspaper, and he [00:18:00] made a choice in 1967 to make art hard for himself and force a personal artistic breakthrough by abandoning the paintbrush.
He said, “I threw away the tools. I chose to do things I had no facility with. The choice not to do something is, in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something. If you impose a limit to not do something you've done before, it'll push you to where you've never gone before.”
When I read that, I thought, wow, that's exactly what we were doing here, isn't it?
Michael: Yes. That's great.
Thomas: I'm always delighted when I read the thought processes of artists that I follow and admire, and in this case learned about, that sort of mirror some thinking that was going on in my mind. In this case about going places that I've never gone before.
Michael: Yeah, this process that we took was, [00:19:00] well by nature my design. It was new to each of us and there were aspects that I love and aspects that I struggled with. It was very, very different process from how I normally create.
Thomas: Well expand on that. How did you feel at the very beginning? You know, after we had talked.
Michael: Well, I there was a, so the combination of excitement and also newness. I think I had purchased Procreate on another recommendation years ago. I had never done anything with it. And so there was a learning curve. I just went to YouTube videos, and I think you may have sent some videos as well.
So I learned how to, you know, have the background photo so that I could then adjust it, things with that, and choosing the grid size. And then it was a matter of the different pens and such. It was all very new to me. And so I'm sure it, you know, to get to where I am, I think I've probably learned maybe one or two percent of what you can do with Procreate. [00:20:00] And I started with sort of the elements that I felt most comfortable with.
Michael: So my creative process is completely different from this. I never draw something that I think I want to draw, or the idea of what I'm going to draw is never there. It's never a specific thing. I draw more from stream of consciousness or in the present, or I must be channeling something. I don't, I actually don't know what, where it comes from.
And it just comes out of me. And I often make myself go into a very healthy struggle, if you will, so that I can get myself out of it.
Michael: So my art goes through many iterations. It's always abstract. Sometimes it turns into a really cool abstract image that does look like something, but that's not the intent or it's, that's more of a fun ending.
Michael: So mine is always, I'm never intending to do anything other than just be with the [00:21:00] creative process of art and let it flow.
And that's what, that's my charge. I just, I mean, it's just the greatest feeling in the world.
Thomas: So this felt, this really felt different for you?
Michael: Completely different because I was doing something. So it was in the beginning there was a push-pull on how do I do it so that I could, I have still a creative process that's flowing and actually draw something.
And I just started to let go of what I was drawing and get into the meditative movement of it. Following the lines and letting my hand move with the, you know, the apple pencil on my iPad. And, it was fun, in segments where I would get lost were when there weren't any lines to follow.
And so I was split to where do I make it up? Or do I zoom in more, or do I make the background image darker so I can see it?
It was just, it was, you know, there was a lot of mistakes. There was a huge chunk where I put it all in the wrong layer. I [00:22:00] put a bunch of my drawing on the actual the photograph layer. That was lost, so I had to draw it again, which was fun. Again, this was all a good learning process.
But I think I went through a doldrum with it, for a couple reasons, which was really fascinating. One was that I, except for my really large paintings, I don't spend a lot of time on one art piece.
Michael: I usually, it can be a few hours to many hours, but then I'll move on to the next art piece.
Even with some of my canvases. It can be like that with my large canvases, you know, like four feet by seven.
Michael: I will spend months, if not a year working on them, you know, once a week, twice a week. They just go through that many iterations and it takes that long to do it.
Quite frankly, with this, it's just the size of an iPad, right? Hundred by hundred grid.
Michael: I would get to a point where I would realize my arc for creating it was done so [00:23:00] I'd have to recreate a new arc. And it made me look at the piece differently, it made me look at the process differently and more at first, more constricting and like, ah, why is this like this?
And then after I got rid of that voice or I let that voice speak and then I said, okay, what's next?
It was more how do I, you know, I'm creating something really cool here. I'm, I'm creating something representational that I'm not focused on that because I'm only focused on each little grid and I'm gonna pour my creativity into each grid.
And when I zoom back out, we'll see what it looks like. And I'm not even done with mine, which is kind of exciting.
Thomas: I think it looks great as it is already. I mean, to me it has almost like a quilt feel to it.
Michael: Yes, you're right.
Thomas: Which I think is fabulous. I want to know more about what you mean by arc. I want you to elaborate on what you mean by arc. Does [00:24:00] that mean like the arc of getting into a creative or an in inspired moment? Is that what that means?
Michael: So for me, arc in when I'm doing art, what I'm creating, there's, it's undefined as far as time. And when I'm doing something that's not intentionally representational, that's just a free flow, I just follow the arc, so I'll just start drawing and, and, and usually it builds on itself, sort of this beginning.
You have a set a space, right? Sometimes it, you know, with or without music, but you have to get into it, it's a process actually.
Sometimes you, it just comes immediately and you're just, you're in the flow within the first few seconds.
Thomas: Would you say that there's like an act one, act two, act three? Is that what you're getting, at?
Michael: There is.
Thomas: It sounds to me that there's like a beginning, middle, and end. And, when you were at the end, you were [00:25:00] a little bit, I don't want to say lost, but…
Michael: I would say it was the middle.
Thomas: Oh, oh, I see.
Michael: In the beginning, I got into the flow. I got excited about it, and then I thought when I spent as much time as I did, figuring out the pens and working on this little bit, and I zoomed out and I thought, Oh boy, I just spent an hour and I've barely done, I felt like I barely did anything.
I thought, wow, this is going to take way longer than I thought it was, which is why I contacted you and said, we're going to need more time here. Which you graciously, agreed to.
And so I think my middle got, I don't know what the right word is. I don't know if it's interrupted, but the flow was changed.
And at first I resisted it because I just, I naturally flow when I create. I've never had an interruption before, but I still held the first act. It was, it's always, that's the beauty of art, right? Your first act is always there, [00:26:00] um, unless you pick up a new piece of paper.
And so, it was just a very long middle for me.
Michael: I'm coming to the, it almost feels like in this piece I'm coming to the end of one arc and beginning another, or I've done that multiple times on this piece.
It's actually forced me to do that. From the way that I normally create to the way to create, so two things, both with the fact that we're, we're doing something that's intentionally representational and in a grid, right?
So we're limiting what we do. And also, I don't do that much creation digitally. feeling the paper or the canvas, feeling the pencil or the pen, and feeling the friction as that moves across.
Thomas: That tactile feeling.
Michael: That tactile feeling is so important. I didn't realize how important it was until we got deeper into this. I've done shorter drawings on the iPad and those were short arcs, you know, an hour, maybe two at most. [00:27:00]
But when it gets longer, I'm missing that sound of the pencil. Right? I'm going to draw right now. Just that sound when you're hatching or when you're shading.
I'm still drawing right now cause it's, kind of, it's fun. There's this element that I was missing, a connection to the piece of art that I am still learning how to let go of the friction that happens with in-person art.
That's not the right word… Versus the immediacy of when the pen touches the pad, it's creating something. And obviously the apple pencil, if you, whether it's angled or your pressure, it does change things, but I'm still, it's all very new.
Thomas: Right. And then the fact that we were doing the grid and you're, we're essentially starting over with every grid.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Thomas: I can see where that sort of lost feeling in the middle of it [00:28:00] is like, oh, okay, I just did something and now I'm starting again. And almost like Groundhog Day.
Thomas: So, you know, I experienced a lot of the same thing in mine. I laughed when you said, oh, I was, I was starting to paint another wrong layer. I can't tell you how many times I was started to paint the wrong layer.
And in fact, I did finish mine a little bit earlier and just recently I opened up the iPad again because I needed to save it and then send it to you. And I realized I was trying to move it around. And I realized that instead of moving it around, I was painting again.
And it's like uh oh! and frantically undoing. But there were a couple strokes that weren't in the undo stack anymore. And so I actually now have to go back and fix a few of the grids because I accidentally painted over them and. And so, or maybe I'll leave it there. I don't know.
Michael: Yeah, I think so.
Thomas: It [00:29:00] kind of looks goofy to me, but, you know, it's just how it is, right? When you see something that other people maybe not see or they see it differently. But learning the layers was an interesting process. And also it just, it tripped me up quite a bit. It was nice that Procreate does have a grid feature that kind of made it easy.
Michael: That was great.
Thomas: So for me, I felt it, it was also a little bit weird like painting over a picture of me.
Thomas: And so it took me a while before that photo of me staring back at me sort of just faded into the background. It took me a while for just to say, oh, okay, I'm just, you know, I'm doing a process here.
The thing that never went away from me though, were the eyes and the mouth. I mean, that's sort of where you know, our brains focus on, on eyes and mouth. and that's the part that I had [00:30:00] to like, go over several times.
Like, okay, that mouth doesn't look right and I need to, start again. So I ended up spending a lot of time on the eyes and the mouth specifically to try to find something that would translate into this, you know, gridded picture.
Thomas: I'm curious, did you have an aha moment at any point where it's like, oh!
Michael: I, well, I had a few of them. The biggest one was, you know, when you're drawing or painting on top of a photograph, It always looks fuller and more complete until you turn off the photo layer and then it's obviously it's clearer. It's white behind everything that's, that you haven't drawn on,
Michael: Plus all of your ink colors now look different.
Michael: So I think my biggest aha moment was early on when I remembered to turn off the photo layer. And I saw all these crazy line. I was [00:31:00] maybe 10% done and I saw all these crazy lines and, and, and these weird colors.
And I'm thinking, where, where is this coming from? Like I could see that it was sort of my nose and part of my eye. I think that's, think I started right in my, in that part of my face.
But it was, shocking to think like, oh, these colors don't look anything like my photo, like the, I couldn't figure out, and I still can't figure out how you get the right color. That's a mystery still to me.
But there was that moment. I think my hair, which in the photo is big and curly. That's been a kind of a wonderful struggle to get the way I wanted to look. Which I don't actually know what that is yet. It's more of a feel to try to figure out how to make it look something like what I think I want it to look like without actually knowing what that is, right?
I don't, I don't actually have the answer yet because I don't, I haven't seen it, but I've gone through my hair twice now and I'm still only about 50%. I don't even know if I'm [00:32:00] 50% done. Because I still want to play with my hair actually has lots of different colors in it, shades. It almost looks like it's highlighted.
Michael: So that's actually really hard. And so the kind of, the aha moment is, and I've always felt this way, even when I've, you know, you see, great paintings, by Sargent or, um, I'm forgetting all the great painters at the moment in my head, but hair is always one of the most amazing things that artists are able to do, and I've always been in awe in doing it.
Now I can see why, because it's such a fascinating, it's such a fine thing to zoom in on and try to do in blocks.
Thomas: Well, I think you did a great job. As far as what I'm seeing so far, and to our listeners, you're welcome to go to the show notes and you'll see both of our portraits there. You've [00:33:00] selected some washes for sort of the base color, and then you have some sort of fine line work that, uh, almost to me looks like, you know, the terrain maps that have the elevations and all that kind of stuff.
Michael: Well, I am a civil engineer,
Thomas: There you go.
Michael: I think it comes out naturally.
Thomas: Yeah, I think it's great. So I had a few aha moments. One was that I made a layer specifically for swatches because there's a way in procreate where you just tap down on a color and hold, and it'll pick up that color. I picked that up from a YouTube.
So that was sort of a nice little discovery for me. It was, “Oh yeah, create a swatch layer because otherwise those colors ain't coming back.” You know if you're using, like, I used a pen that was called bleach, and so it it's not the full color. It's sort of a runny stained version of that color [00:34:00] that I was using.
Michael: I want to hear your other aha, aha moments. But I'm now, I'm excited to go find that feature. Because I was looking for something where I could use like an eyedropper to grab a previous color and I just, I couldn't figure it out.
The reason mine is a myriad of different colors is because I was trying to guess what the, what color to use each time.
Thomas: Oh, right, right. The other one that I used is the color tool has something called harmony mode, where you can pick a pair of complimentary colors or triad of colors. And so I was using triads in mine. I was sort of filling my squares with like a base color and then covering it with a complimentary color.
Thomas: And then putting a dot in the middle to change the gray scale value, like the density. So my thought was, okay, I'm going to create some complimentary colors and then put the dots in to sort of change the [00:35:00] value, the overall value when you pull back.
Michael: Oh, interesting.
I'm looking at yours right now. It's so great. It has, elements of, uh, Andy Warhol.
Thomas: And for the hair, I just did short strokes. I didn't really spend so much time on it because,
Michael: It's brilliant.
Thomas: Yeah, I had to do my beard and then I had to do my curly hair. What I decided there is I would do strokes, but I, the strokes would remain within the grid. So I wasn't taking the strokes beyond each grid. So each grid was sort of self-contained in terms of that. And I just tried to make sure that I was following the direction of the hair.
Michael: Are your grids and your squares of colors, are those in a different layer from your hair?
Thomas: No. And, but I should have! I think that one of the things I learned here was, is that layers are good, you know, and the more layers you do, the better. [00:36:00] And definitely when you leave it, leave it on a layer that, that you can, you know, erase stuff on.
Because I left it on my main layer. And then, like I said, I came back later and I was trying to move it around and I was actually painting over. It's like, “Oh no!”
Michael: Well, and you kind of created a, you created a grid, like your grid is defined on your painting.
Thomas: Right. And you mentioned how like when you took away the photograph layer that it changed and so I actually had to create a background layer that was sort of a neutral, like 50% gray. And I played with that a little bit and I made it really dark. I made it light, but I finally sort of settled on sort of in that middle 50% gray as a background, because otherwise to me the photo didn't look dense enough.
Michael: And [00:37:00] it's gray background on well, and the listeners will have a look at the images, but you're from your shoulders up, there's one background, and then down below you've got white. There's lots of white that's in there that really helps break up. It creates tension and it helps divide your, painting really nicely.
Thomas: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I didn't, that wasn't intentional.
Michael: That wasn't intentional. Oh, it's fantastic.
Thomas: Thank you. I was just following the photograph, so I'd taken the photograph in my bathroom and there's a yellow wall behind me and so that's why I chose that color. And then the shirt, you know, was a sort of a darker gray shirt.
Michael: Will the photographs be on the notes as well so they can see what it looks like or just
Thomas: Yes. Yeah.
Michael: Oh, great. Good.
Michael: Did you choose the colors for your face and your hair? You, you wanted a more abstract and [00:38:00] fun direction?
Thomas: Yeah, sort of an orange-ish color. I was contemplating to actually to do like a, like a blueish or greenish, but I just, I thought, well, that might look a little bit too ghoulish. So I went with a warm color.
Thomas: I had to play with the colors a little bit, definitely.
Michael: Well, it's it. Yours is definitely playful.
Thomas: Yeah. Thank you. It was also a playful pose that was kind of fun to do the pose.
Thomas: So Michael, what would you say or recommend to someone who was going to try this or something similar to this?
Michael: I would say, well, okay, I was going to say learn the tools and et cetera.
But one of the things that I learned from, where I kind of learned how to create and see and perceive, O'Hanlan Center for the Arts in Mill Valley, was that it's all about seeing and perceiving and kind of [00:39:00] developing that, and letting go of what we've learned in school and the media, whatever that art is, this one thing and it's perfect and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I would throw all that out the window or set it aside depending on, on your feelings on it. And let mistakes happen and let them be a part of your piece.
Because it's a part, you're creating a part of you, you're creating a journal entry. And so you can, you know, there is no… I used to know an artist who if she didn't like something, she would stick it in the the sink and then turn on the water and, and let the stuff wash off until she's kind of saw a cool part of it that she wanted to keep.
And then she would pull it away and dab it dry and, and then continue. The erase tool can work like that. But I think that I've spent most of my now 24 years drawing, and creating, hardly ever using an eraser and just building on and [00:40:00] incorporating mistakes. And if, if you really like something, don't let it rule the painting or what you're creating.
And, you know, kind of have fun with this and let it, you know, choose your grid size carefully because it makes a big difference in how long it's going to take.
Thomas: Yeah. Sure does.
Michael: But I'm fascinated by what I've, I would, uh, not in my lifetime would I ever create something like this unless I had agreed to do it with you. Because I would've lost interest and I would've like, you know what I, this isn't for me, but because you asked me and we, I agreed and we, you know, made this challenge for ourselves. I stuck to it.
So make it so that you know how much time is going to take and then give yourself the time to do it, because it's a really fun process.
Thomas: And what’s embedded in what you just said there is to make it a collaboration.
Thomas: There's something about creating art in collaboration that [00:41:00] really is a little bit different than when you're just sitting by yourself in your studio. I mean, we did this by ourselves, but we were still doing it in collaboration and it makes all the difference in the world.
Michael: I one hundred percent agree!
Thomas: Yeah. and I also wanted to say that there is really something personal about doing a self-portrait. You know, it's different. It really feels different. It's…
Thomas: … you know, that's me. It's, it's…
Michael: Yeah! Is that, is that what I look like?
Thomas: …a picture of me.
Thomas: Well, Michael, thank you so much for this. This was, this was a real delight and I'm glad we went through this. I'm looking forward to seeing how yours evolves. Let me know as it evolves and at some point if you say, okay, I'm done with it, then let me know as well. I'd love to see it.
But this was really a fun project and, and thank you for, sort of guiding us in this [00:42:00] direction of Chuck Close. I'm so delighted to have learned about the artist and what he did so thank you very much.
Michael: Thank you for inviting me, uh, Thomas. It's been a delight.
Wednesday Sep 06, 2023
Wednesday Sep 06, 2023
Wednesday Sep 06, 2023
In this episode of You And I Make A Thing, my friend Tara and I decided to go into nature and create ephemeral art, something that both of us had never done before. It was quite an open-ended idea and we both struggled a bit before we found the inspiration to guide us. Join us as we discuss how it all unfolded.
Links mentioned in this podcast
Tara’s SoundCloud album: My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Seasonal Music
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Issa Rae Teaches Creating Outside the Lines on Masterclass
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Some of these links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
The fallen cypress tree in Golden Gate Park
The fallen tree in Westchester NY near the reservoir
Thomas: My guest today is Tara Bahna-James. Hello, Tara.
Tara: Hi, Thomas.
Thomas: How's it going?
Tara: Great. Great. Thanks so much. I'm happy to be here.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm happy that you're here. Tara is a playwright, singer, and performer, educator and essayist. She's co-authored six musicals and her shows and songs have been performed at theaters and festivals across the United States. And [00:01:00] about a year ago, Tara released an album on SoundCloud called My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Seasonal Music. And I've listened to it and it's wonderful. It's so beautiful. You have a, you have a beautiful voice, Tara.
Tara: Thank you.
Thomas: Before we get started with You And I Make a Thing, I want to ask you, Tell us about a creative thing that you are making at the moment or something that you're planning to make soon.
Tara: So right now, I've been spending a lot of time outdoors recently, in all seasons just because, just before the pandemic began, I moved to sort of a more rural area than I was living before. And so there have been actually surprisingly, lots of opportunities to just sort of get out and hike and, so I've been thinking about trees a lot.
So at present, a previous collaborator of mine, Jonathan Portera, who I've, worked with several times on musical season, brilliant composer. He and I have been talking for a long time about beginning a new [00:02:00] work together and we don't know a lot about it, but we know that we're both fascinated with the life cycles of trees and the connections of trees to fungi.
Tara: And so I exactly where that's gonna take us.
But I think that's kind the direction that we're going in right now.
Thomas: That's great. That's wonderful. I mean, there's, there's a lot there to study and research and talk about and create from. Trees are like us and they're also very different from us in some ways. And, you know, in the sense that their lifespans can be much, much longer than ours.
And they have these, beautiful connections. You mentioned fungi and many trees have that symbiotic relationship with fungi. The fungi give them nourishment and the trees give the fungi nourishment in a different way in return. It's very [00:03:00] interesting.
Tara: What I'm also, what I'm in particularly fascinated by is that, just like from what I said, from spending time outdoors more often, just the way that wilderness affords you simultaneously a real stillness and also company at the same time. And I'm reading Braiding Sweetgrass right now for the first time and there's this beautiful quote that I just came across. I don't have the book in front of me, so I'm not gonna get it right, I'm sure.
But it was something about how the land recognizes you or knows you even when you don't necessarily recognize yourself. And immediately that resonated for me as something that I feel like I experience, even if I'm in a very new place. There's when I'm out hiking, if it's by myself or with dogs, I always, there's just this, this sort of sense of being recognized and not alone in the world. You know, even when in one's solitude.
And that's [00:04:00] just, that's something that feels, um, it's funny, I wanna say it feels very songful to me. It feels very musical, but that's not quite what I'm getting at because it's actually the stillness and the quiet of those moments that I so love.
But there's, there's something in there I guess, that speaks, that I want to give voice to that experience. So I think that's where that's coming from, that desire to write to that place.
Thomas: A little bit of like validation of the self when you're with the trees,
Tara: I dunno if it's the self, it's the family, I guess. Right? It's like the, yeah. The connection to all things. The mystic nature that poets love so much. So, yeah.
Thomas: Well, wonderful. I'll be looking forward to seeing how that evolves, and I'm sure you'll let me know when you've manifested it.
Thomas: Well, [00:05:00] Tara, I'm so excited to be doing this episode with you. And specifically the idea of You And I Make A Thing. And I have to admit, I have some butterflies at the moment, which of course is the whole point of this exercise is to get together with you, to collaborate with you on something and we don't know yet what it's gonna be.
So, for those of you listening, Tara and I have not decided on something ahead of time. The point of what we're doing right now is to be in the moment and to improvise an idea. But I did, Tara, I did ask you to think of three things that you've thought about doing at some point and you haven't tried yet, and maybe it's something you might want to try.
And I've also have three things that I came up with. And I was thinking that we could sort of bounce back and forth. You could say a thing, I could say a thing. And then, you know, once we have both of our three things said, then we can sort of, I guess just sit with it and say, [00:06:00] oh, you wanna try that?
Tara: Sounds good.
Thomas: Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
Tara: I don't mind going first. I don't know if my ideas are meant to, well, I just, I felt a lot of freedom in the invitation, I'll just say that.
Tara: In terms of whether what I pick is thematic or about form or technology. so I just sort of riffed on that. I think my three are very different from one another.
So the first. also inspired by the book I'm reading right now, was for us to make some kind of natural art existing in either time or space. And the ideas that we would create it as kind of a call and response. Like either outdoor art, and it could be temporary art. It could be the kind of thing that maybe we document with a photograph or something, but then it sort of gets washed away. Or perhaps a ritual that is, informed by our [00:07:00] distance.
So the ideas behind this are basically the two ideas are, one, that it exists outside in some way. And two, that our working from so many miles apart collaboratively enhance the experience and the project rather than be you know, any kind of debility in creating what we're creating. So that it sort of informs the whole process.
The fact that we're, we're doing this in two different times and places. Yeah.
Thomas: I love that idea. I mean, there's already like sparkles going around my mind here. That's a fantastic idea. And we are on opposite coasts. I'm on the West Coast and you're on the East Coast.
Tara: Right. This way.
Thomas: And are, are you, are you close to the shore. Are you close to, to the Atlantic? There where you are?
Tara: I'm not too close. I'm close enough. Certainly. It's about an hour's drive for me, I'd say. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Thomas: All right. I think [00:08:00] that actually sort of, ties into two of mine, believe it or not.
Tara: Oh, great. Great.
Thomas: So I've had this idea, so thank you for that. And let's bookmark that and let's see what shows up with these other ideas. So I have this thing that I've been thinking about wanting to do, and I call it skewer quotes. And in my imagination, what I do is I take an old typewriter. I actually have access to an old style typewriter. And type out a thought. Cut it out, paste it onto a skewer, you know, like one of those, things that you get Maraschino cherries in a cocktail, or a small skewer. And then go out to the dunes here at the beach and just plant it in the dunes for somebody else to find.
Tara: Oh my. I love that. That's interesting. That does feel very close to what I thought, doesn't it?
Tara: [00:09:00] So what do the skewers part come from? Is it just for a way so that you can sort of, so that they won't blow away basically, so that you can attach them to something?
Thomas: Yeah, so you can stick 'em in the ground.
Tara: Okay, got it.
Thomas: So in my craft shop, my garage, with all these materials that I have, I have a lot of crafty items. And whenever I go to some of the local little tchotchke shops, we have a lot of Asian stores that sell teacups and bowls and, and strainers and you name it, right, for the kitchen.
And it's all very inexpensive because it's just, hey, you know, this is for daily use. It's not fine China or anything like that. And in those shops, I'm always looking for things that I could repurpose for crafts. So in my craft box of tongue depressors and swizzle sticks and all that, [00:10:00] I have like bundles and bundles of skewers that, you know, normally would be in the kitchen, but they're here in in my craft studio and waiting to be used.
So that's where the, skewer comes from. And I just thought skewer quote also has a ring to it. Like there is a little bit of tension when you say skewer.
Thomas: Because you're poking something.
Tara: That that, honestly, that's what strikes me too, and it sounds aggressive in that way, I guess. Or not aggressive, but you know what I mean, or something. I don't know. I guess I'm trying to find a way of interpreting that. But why? I'm not gonna look for ways to interpret anything.
I'm gonna let it unfold. But I found myself sort of looking for a way into that part of it.
Thomas: Well, there is the cooking metaphor, right? I mean, you're taking your piece of onion and your piece of mushroom and the piece of, you know, bell pepper and all that, and making it into something that looks a little bit decorative and then you put on the grill.
Tara: Right, right, [00:11:00] right, right. That's so funny. Yeah. Yeah.
Thomas: All right, well that was number two. We still have four more to go. Let's see where this goes.
Tara: So my next idea was, so I've done some visual art in the past, not very much. I sketch a little bit, but it's probably the art form that I do least frequently. Or the one that I've heard of that I do least frequently. So something visual, and I was thinking, I've always wanted to make functional art.
Once I made a cup in a glassblowing workshop that I had. And it was just, I was so delightfully proud of it forever ever and ever. It's just such a special experience. So this thought was just that we would take some functional thing that we both decided to make, and then like either decide on a functional thing that we would then each reinterpret with our own choice of material.
Or that we would create together based on sort of part problem solving and talking [00:12:00] through, maybe making our ideal, you know, form of the whatever. Like form, like newfangled form of a chair say, or whatever. And just yeah, like approach it in a sort of a problem-solving way so that the end result was a new creation of some kind.
Thomas: And so when you say functional, that could be. like any, just anything that a person would use,
Tara: Like, when I was little, I always wanted to, I told my mother, my nose was always cold in the winter. And I had this idea that somebody should make nose cozies, like instead, like just for your nose, you know? Now of course I'm aware of all these hats and things that exist to like cover the nose. But like you know, but just the idea that there was like a little, almost like just like a tea cozy, like a little knit fabric that would sort of sit on the end of your nose that you could wear with maybe straps and you know, maybe it would look like little animal noses or something like.
Thomas: I love that.
Tara: Yeah, it could be something that you've wanted to exist too. It doesn't have to be [00:13:00] typical.
Thomas: All right. I like that. Let's see. Now you got me thinking. All right. Before I start thinking too much, I'm gonna propose my next idea. I've been wanting to make something called a mini box assemblage. An an assemblage or a box assemblage, is an art form where the artist takes a box and then basically makes like a three-dimensional collage.
It's like collaging, but using found objects, right?
Thomas: But I'm thinking of more of the mini version. And, you know, when you get jewelry in a small box. It's usually these white little cardboard boxes with a piece of cotton in them.
Thomas: You familiar with those?
Thomas: I was thinking what would it be like to take a box like that and make a collage from that, like [00:14:00] find smaller three-dimensional things and create, an assemblage, a collage out of that. And that's something that I've been, considering.
Tara: This kinda reminds me of dioramas. Do you make those in school?
Thomas: I do, I do make dioramas, and it is sort of like a diorama, except that it's usually less representational, it's more abstract. It's more abstract in, in the sense of a collage, like when you do a paper cut collage.
Tara: Okay. Hmm.
Thomas: All right, so how about you? You have one more thing, right?
Tara: My last thing, yeah, so this idea is probably the least developed and it, oh, do you know, it's so funny. I had, one of the ideas that I took off my list was collage. So there's that resonance with your three-dimensional one actually. So there, there's resonance there too.
But anyway, the third idea was just to use a technology, or a format in writing that I don't typically [00:15:00] use. So I've always wanted to, I like the idea of working in film or video, but usually the technology's intimidating to me to the extent where I sort of put off working with it. But I know you're much more tech savvy than I am.
So I guess if there was some technology that you've been curious about that you haven't tried out yet that we could sort of play around in. Or like, I write a lot of scripts, but I don't typically write scripts for film and video. So maybe something like that. And something I, another idea that came to mind along those lines that feels kind of goofy to me, but fun is to actually write a pilot.
Like write a TV pilot or something like that. Like come up with a situation and then write the first episode for whatever show that would be.
Thomas: Oh, that's cool. I subscribe to Masterclass and one of the artists that I follow there is Issa Rae. And she's done, you know, a fabulous job with her series. And her class all is all about that. It's all about creating a pilot and how do you go [00:16:00] about it and how do you create the characters and stuff like that.
Thomas: Yeah. I'm gonna tell you one more here and then we can step back a little bit and make a decision. So the last one is, have you seen the book Griffin and Sabine?
Tara: Oh, I've heard of it, but I can't remember. Is it, is it letters to one another?
Thomas: It's letters. So the idea is that there's an artist that lives in England, his name is Griffin, and he gets this mysterious letter from Sabine. She's in New Zealand, and she reveals that she can see him. So they're writing letters back and forth. And of course this unnerves him as like, how in the world is this person, Sabine able to see me? Like, she can visualize him.
And the book itself is basically you open a page and there's an envelope, and then you open the envelope and open the letter and there's the [00:17:00] letter, right? And I thought, but that's such a terrific way to tell a story of, you know, these letters back and forth.
So anyway, one of these days I want to attempt something like that.
Tara: So is the idea that we would create kind of an epistolary novel, or is there the idea that we would write letters as ourselves back and forth to each other and then create some artwork out of that and, I don't know. And I guess I'm curious as whether we're writing, if that's the case, are we writing as characters or we're writing as ourselves as you say.
Thomas: I would think we're writing as characters. I think we would decide, okay, let's do a story around this thing, this topic, and then decide what the letters are going back and forth. So anyway, that's my third idea.
Thomas: There's so much here, isn't there?
Tara: There really is! Eager to pair this with the TV pilot idea since the other two [00:18:00] seem to go so well together. You know, although I guess maybe the three dimensional collage is not so much like the functional art but it feels like, each of our three ideas in our set were divergent from one another in similar ways. Does that make sense?
Thomas: It is. Yeah, I agree. Definite similarities there. I have to say that, I mean, they all resonate with me and I'm sure they're resonating with you as well, but I have to say that your first idea of going out into the wilderness and making something ephemeral really did resonate with me. What about you? how's this all hit for you?
Tara: I feel open to them all, but I think I agree that, that one, I think that first idea really resonated in a way that felt like it was, I could see it taking shape. Does that make sense? Like, I feel like it was probably the most developed idea that I had.
And also, I [00:19:00] think of your three, it was also your most developed idea. So, I guess I'm blending them. You're talking about the first idea and I guess I'm talking about one and two as a unit for some reason. So when you say going down to the dunes, are you talking about combining the skewer quotes with the first idea or, exclusively like diving into the first idea to try to see what comes up.
Thomas: Well, how do you feel about the skewer quotes?
Tara: I like the skewer quotes except that I don't know how I feel about the skewers, but I mean, I could also use tongue depressors or something like that.
Thomas: It doesn't have to be a skewer.
Tara: And I also, yeah, and I also don't know how to wrap my mind around I'm trying to sort of wrap my brain around how we could do it in a way that didn't create trash ultimately. You know what I mean?
Thomas: Yeah, well, we don't have to leave it there.
Thomas: In [00:20:00] this sense, it's like we could create something that is literally ephemeral and we just go down there, we photograph it, or interact with it or do something with it.
Tara: Or we could, we could, place elements that are already in the space, in a way that, that leaves behind some kind of message or some kind of communication.
Thomas: Like an echo or a shadow.
Thomas: like that.
Tara: Yeah. And I also like, so part of the first idea was that there's that call in response element to it.
So I don't know if that means yet that one of us creates something. I mean, there's also, you know, we could, because of modern technology, we could literally be doing this at the same time and communicating about it. Or we could go into the space and have an experience or create something and then share it with the other [00:21:00] person so that then the other person would respond to it.
Thomas: I like the idea of call and response.
Tara: Mm-hmm. Maybe that's our theme. Maybe that whole, that's our theme call and response. And that's the idea that we're creating around.
So we could like pick a space that we're each gonna go into and then respond to the notion of call and response. And then listen for what's in the space and then respond to it or listen for our art partner on the other side of the coast. And then respond to what we're picking up, you know?
Thomas: I like that. That's great.
Thomas: We have our idea.
Tara: Good, awesome.
In just a moment, Tara and I will return what the results of artistic adventure to the outdoors. But before we do that, I'd like to play for you. One of Tara's songs on her album. [00:22:00] My Favorite Things, Sacred and Secular Music. It's called Riu Chiu and it was arranged by Mike Magatagan.
Thomas: That was Tara Bahna- James singing Riu Chiu. And I'll put a link to her album on SoundCloud in the show notes. Now, back to our conversation about You And I Make a Thing.
Thomas: Well, Tara, welcome back! It's been a while since we've last spoke.
Tara: Indeed, indeed. Thank you. It's great to be here.
Thomas: And thank you for playing along and doing this thing with me. The You And I Make a Thing. I am just so delighted with what we both came up with. And what I thought we would start with is to talk a little bit about what we were thinking before we got started with our adventure to the [00:25:00] outdoors.
Thomas: And I'll start. When we did our first conversation, it was just before New Year's, and right after that, we had a quite a bit of weather come through here in California. We had a number of storms that just, you know, came through one after the other.
So I was waiting to find a break in the weather to go out and do something. But I have to admit that I was a little struggling a little bit to try to figure out what it is that I wanted to do. You know, we said that we wanted to create some sort of ephemeral art. And my initial thought was to go down to the beach, but with the weather we were having, it just didn't make sense to go there.
Thomas: So I couldn't figure out what I was gonna do, you know, was I gonna go down to the beach and play in the sand, do some sort of dance, make some images in the sand or whatever? I was struggling for quite a while to come up with [00:26:00] something. And before I proceed with how I sort of found what I wanted to do, I'm just curious about what you were feeling going into this.
Tara: Yeah, I guess I had a kind of similar experience. I also envisioned myself on the beach, somewhere in Sanford maybe. And the reason it didn't work out that way, is more because of what came up for me when I saw what you had done initially, which is great. I'm glad it worked out that way.
But I also wasn't really sure of the direction I wanted to go in. I tend to gestate things for a while before I create an artistic piece. I'm waiting for influences from all the parts of my world to sort of gather. You know, it takes me a while to figure out what themes I've been turning over in the various parts of my life, what wants to be birthed, you know?
And so, so I think that's where I was with [00:27:00] it. And also, as I mentioned in what I wrote for you about the work after I had done it. I think what was particularly challenging for this piece was that it really wasn't restrictive at all in terms of what we were supposed to bring to each other.
I also felt like, okay, it could be experiential, it can be the form of something. I guess I had a feeling after our conversation that what we were talking about doing was leaving some mark of an experience in nature that we had had.
Like not necessarily leaving something behind, because I think we wanted it to sort of live in the landscape and not become trash.
But I did feel like it was, you know, it was like the meeting place between an experience and an artifact, but it wasn't fully an artifact.
And I think that definitely presented a challenge in terms of conceiving it from the beginning. Because I felt like going through [00:28:00] it was going to reveal what it was. If that makes sense.
Thomas: I want to pick up on something you mentioned about it just being so open-ended. Art is hard when it's open-ended right?
I mean, that's why if you look at Instagram and places like that, everybody's always doing like daily prompts. Someone comes up with a list of the prompts for February and today you're gonna be doing something about oranges or whatever it might be. And having it not be so open-ended actually stimulates creativity. Right?
Thomas: So this was a challenge in that way. It was really open-ended.
There was a point where I said, oh, you know, I think I'm actually gonna go to Golden Gate Park instead of going to the beach. And so I started imagining like, what could I take with me that I could do something [00:29:00] with, but I wouldn't leave it there.
And I have this huge coil of jute rope and I was thinking of taking the rope and stringing it from tree to tree and maybe even having me in as part of it.
And then what happened was someone posted a picture of a tree that had fallen during the storms that we had. And this particular tree is actually fairly well known to me. The reason is, it was growing right on the edge of a lake called Metson Lake. And it was a hundred year old cypress tree.
And the way it was next to the lake, it was almost like leaning into the lake. The the tree was leaning a little bit and it looked like it had one foot, if you will, one, big root right into the lake itself. And it toppled during the storms. When I read that, the first thing I felt was a kind of sadness.
Because of the [00:30:00] way the tree was positioned almost over the water, it always had this amazing reflection in the water. So it was almost like a part of the lake, or a part of the scene.
And the lake is only a 15 minute walk away from where I live, and so I would go there often and just sit in one of the benches.
And so it was an integral part of that scene, if you will, even though I don't think that I had created a a personal relationship with the tree, if you understand what I mean.
And now to see this tree toppled, all of a sudden it's like it felt personal, right? Is because it's like, oh, that scene will never, I'll never be able to see that scene again.
I'll never be able to see that tall tree and the reflection as well.
So after I learned about it after a couple days, I actually took a walk over there and took a look. And what struck me about it is, you know, first of all, the tree had fallen directly [00:31:00] into the lake. And the base of the tree is six feet or more in width.
So it was laying on its side, but underneath the tree was all sand because this area that used to be all sand dunes, right? And so this tree had grown on these sand dunes and yet the roots hadn't gone straight down at all. The roots had just simply gone to the side, which is I guess what Cypress trees do.
They don't send a big tap root downward at all. So I was a little bit surprised to see that a big patch of sand, just where the tree was standing. And so after I'd seen that, I went home and thought about it more and thought about our project here. And that's when it occurred to me. I said, you know, that plot of sand, would be a good canvas to do something with.
And as we had talked about in our previous conversation, I wanted to use materials that I found there. And the thing that [00:32:00] occurred to me is like a galaxy. And reason I thought about that is because it's been on my mind.
I've been thinking about the fact that we're in this great big Milky Way galaxy on a planet circling the sun and the solar system is circling in the the galaxy.
So it just was on, on the top of my mind. And so that's what I did. I went out and I was hoping to find some flowers, which I did. There was a lot of little yellow oxalis flowers blooming. And I got a few of those, put them in the center, and then I took pine needles and did a sort of a spiral around them. And then I was just noticing a clumps of lichen everywhere. So I just had to sort of finish it with having lichen on the outside.
I know that galaxies don't have lichen, but you know, it spoke to me for whatever reason. So that's what I came up with. I felt for me it was sort of a way to honor the tree and come to some sort of internal peace about the fact that the tree is now no longer standing.
[00:33:00] And, and it brought up a lot of feelings for me, but we'll get to that in a little moment. So now I'm curious to know how you felt when you received my email with the pictures.
Tara: Yeah, it's so interesting to hear you talk about them too, because it's different. It changes. I'm glad we didn't talk about it more before I received them.
Cuz it was really lovely to just take in the images and the story of the tree falling and your relationship to it without the background of what brought you to those ideas.
So, I also just wanna say, I love what you said about it helped you make peace with the fact that that experience of the landscape in that way with the tree standing was gone.
That there was, there's like an element of specifically of grieving, but I'm more thinking that it just speaks to me how [00:34:00] often, you know, there's an event and, I mean, if I can assume that we have a relatively similar culture. Our North American culture in this day and age, as United States citizens, has less acknowledgement of those rights of passage and the human need to like do some kind of ritual to really fully process.
Tara: You know, so I love that because I feel like although mine was more of a gratitude ritual rather than for mourning, although it was also around a dead tree, or dying tree.
It's funny, it feels even funny to use the word dying with trees because I'm just so aware of their part of the circle of life. It's just so evident when you see them beginning to decay and other life forms like growing on them and the mushrooms and the spiders sort of taking them over. And moss or whatever. Yeah, it's just such a, such an interesting thing to think about from the perspective of this human life.
And, but anyway, I felt like [00:35:00] that was also a really strong part of it for me, that I was trying to show up for feelings, that it may not have occurred to me to stop and process if we hadn't been doing this.
Cuz it was such a peripheral, you know, like that tree, like your tree as well, it sounds like, it's not like you communicated with it directly or saw it every single day. But it was still in your world and it was still another being that you had a relational experience with, you know?
Thomas: And that I had reason to have gratitude for.
Tara: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Right, right.
So when I saw your photos, the image of the fallen tree definitely spoke to me first because I saw in it this fallen tree that I was familiar with here on the East coast, that I frequently passed when I was walking dogs. I've worked part-time as a dog sitter in addition to a bunch of other [00:36:00] things.
And so I have occasion to go hiking with dogs very, very often. And this is one of my favorite places to go hiking with them by the reservoir in Westchester County.
And so the tree, I knew that for me, that image of your tree was connected to this particular tree.
There's no other tree that I see so frequently where I'm like staring at its root system, just sort of like right in the path. It’s a landmark. It's sort of how I mark how far I've gone along the path when I'm walking with these dogs.
And there's something kind of ominous about it. It's like, you know, having fallen, it symbolizes death in some kind of way, but it's also, it's just very underworldy, literally, literally.
I mean, it's teaming with life, right? It's like all of these sort of, all of these sort of creatures living in the, in the dirt, hanging from its roots.
You know, it's an area that, I do have [00:37:00] relationships with several trees that when I pass them, I move to, you know, to touch them or hug them or sit by them or what, you know.
This is a tree that I always kind of kept my distance from because it was sort of gnarly and muddy and like, you know, like the dogs love running and smelling and eating and chewing everything on the path, but I'm like taking my dainty little steps to sort of stay on the straight and narrow and not step in anything too gross, you know?
And so I didn't. I had sort of distance from the street, and yet it was, as you say, it's like, it was a part of my world and something to have gratitude for. It was something that I recognized. It was something that helped to create the space that was this sanctuary for me and it's like playground for me.
So that was the first thing, is that your image is, immediately gave me clarity about where my part of the project was gonna take place. I knew I was gonna have to go to the tree.
Tara: The reason I was also very interested to hear you talk about the galaxy is [00:38:00] because, I didn't realize it at the time, I think, but to me, the notion of the galaxy also has that sense of like, there's so much life within it.
Right? It's this, it's this sort of visual structure. It's like when we look at galaxies, we're so far removed from them that they become really abstract and geometric, when in actuality it's just teaming with life. I mean, at least ours is.
And so that also sort of spoke to the experience of the tree. That the underbelly or underfoot of the tree is kind of this, you know, I see it as this sort of one round, like this one geometric experience that I have this kind of distant relationship to, but an actuality, it's an entire ecosystem.
So, that was really meaningful to me. And then also I mentioned just the visual of looking at the galaxy that you created, it really brought up the image of a nest to me, there was something that felt very [00:39:00] nest like, and I think it's the needles, the pine needles.
It just felt soft. It felt like the kind of like, if I were a bird, it felt like it was the kind of materials that I might gather, be interested in, you know. And there was something that was so, it was so contained and round and it was a, you know, it felt like a kind of civilized expression of emotion. And, to me, that evoked nest also.
So, and I don't know that thought made it into my creation as much. But anyway, but I thought it was interesting and it definitely, I guess, colored how I, what I thought was going on with the project.
Thomas: One thing that occurs me to me too as we're talking about this is, you know, when we behold trees, we are in awe of them because they are so tall and they're so much larger than us.
Thomas: And when a tree falls down, at least for me, that root structure, seeing the underside [00:40:00] and the roots just splayed out is awe-inspiring in a totally different way, you know, because it is, it's still large, right?
I mean, the foot of this tree was, it was more than six feet, because that's, now I'm thinking about, it's taller than me. So it's like a different type of awe. To see a tree in that state. Because it's like, wow, even the base is so large.
Tara: Absolutely. And when I looked at my tree again that day that I was working on the project, I also, for the first time, really stepped back and saw how much ground its trunk covered sprawled across, you know, just. I don't even, I can't even fathom. I don't spend that much time measuring things.
But I mean, it was just much, much taller than I ever envisioned. I took a panoramic shot of it before I left. And what was remarkable is like there were branches that I hadn't [00:41:00] realized were part of that tree until I really intentionally stepped back and took it all in and recognized how much of the landscape was made up of that tree.
Thomas: So Tara, tell me a little bit about the ritual that you performed at the tree.
Tara: Yeah. So I while we were working on this, I was reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. Which is just such a tremendous work of everything, of memoir, of meditation, of honoring the plant life and ancestors in her life. It's just a beautiful, beautiful book.
I'm still not finished with it, but I just love it. And she has a chapter in which she talks about how when she was a child, her father would like, they would camp. And in the morning her father always made sure to pour the first cup of coffee out to the earth as an [00:42:00] offering.
It's like an echo of this, I hope I'm saying it right, Potawatomi ritual. And so that chapter talks a lot about ways in which the ritual life of her ancestors survived into her little nuclear family that was much more modernized and integrated.
But that there were these things that remained. And one of them was this sense of the importance of living with gratitude and reciprocity with the land and, you know, relationship. And that that's one of the ways that it lived for her in this ritual that she sort of took for granted it or, didn't, you know, realize the depth of it when she first experienced it.
So anyway, so I guess what happened for me is that when I realized that the images that you took brought me to this tree in my mind and made me want to go to this tree.[00:43:00] I realized that what I had for, you know, if I were gonna go to make an offering to this tree or in that space, it would be one of gratitude, because that's land that I've used for so often.
I'm years now, and I just not, I just never quite had, you know, I mean, I think I probably even do say thank you sometimes. I'm just a really verbal person and I'm a singer and it's very rare I go walking in the woods without singing something or, you know, talking to myself or the dogs or whoever I'm with.
So I'm sure at some point, you know, said some kind of thanks, but it wasn't for its own sake. It wasn't like I was making the trip to do that. And so I thought I'm gonna make this trip to say thank you. I'm gonna go to that space and just experience it differently, consciously reflecting on what it's meant to me and saying thank you.
And so, I borrowed her ritual and I took my [00:44:00] morning beverage, some of my morning beverage, which I did not prepare on the spot because I hadn't camped there.
Lately I've been drinking this delicious, this, you know, fad of mushroom coffee, which doesn't actually have coffee in it. And I just love this, this morning beverage. It's got like a cacao and turmeric and all these mushrooms and it's quite delicious and spicy and...
Thomas: That sounds delicious.
Tara: It is totally delicious and so I thought, okay, I'm gonna take some of this with me. And I was looking for, for the right day for a while, because while we have not had the kind of storms that California experienced, we have had, severe drops in temperature. Like within 24 hours, it'll go from 60 degrees to 20 degrees or something like that.
So I've been sort of waiting for the right time when I would wanna linger in outdoors and, and I got that opportunity.
And I just, went to the reservoir and I went for a hike by myself And I stopped at the tree.
And then while I was [00:45:00] there, also in homage to your galaxy, I created my own galaxy of pine cones. There was an abundance of these beautiful pine cones. Many, many different sizes. And so I made this little swirl of a galaxy and I said a prayer of gratitude to the tree and to the space, to the water and to the trees and to the wind and everything that created this beautiful landscape that I found myself in.
And then I poured out the mushroom brew and I also said a Buddhist metta prayer, um, like loving kindness prayer. And that was it. And then I just sort of stayed for a while and took that in.
Thomas: I did too.
Tara: Yeah. And listen, there's so much to, I just love to listen to the wind.
It's one of my favorite ways to write my morning pages. For those who don't know, and probably your listeners do, I'm talking about the, the Julia Cameron's morning pages that are part of the Artist's Way.
So [00:46:00] I, whenever I write my morning pages, I try to do so outside so that I can listen to the wind while I'm writing and it completely transforms my experience.
It just brings you present so immediately, and I feel instinctively that there are messages on the wind and that there's some part of my unconscious mind that understands what those are, in a way that I could never articulate or quite understand consciously.
And so I just listened and then I walked the length of the trail that I usually walk and saw it with different awareness.
And also at a different time of day, I should say. That was really nice too. Because I wasn't going on the schedule I usually go on. It was just sort of the middle of the day and it was a beautiful slant of light. That everything was like golden and glimmering.
Thomas: Yeah. The light was different.
Tara: It was really lovely. It's a good experience.
Thomas: Yeah. I did the same thing after I made my piece there. I went and sat down and just took it all in.
Thomas: And it was a [00:47:00] wonderful thing to do it. You know, we're talking about gratitude. So I do want to express my gratitude to you for coming up with this idea because it's something that, um, I would've not have done otherwise.
And it was way more profound than I expected it to.
Tara: Aw, I'm so glad. I felt like it's so funny that you say that. I don't even, I'm not, I haven't even registered that it was my idea. It feels like it was sort of organic.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, we, yes, we sort of went back and forth with it. But I guess what I want to say is I'm just so full of gratitude for us having done this together. Because it's not something I would've experienced.
And what this really drives home for me is that especially when it comes to making art that you've never done before, I always find that I am going to experience something, I'm gonna discover [00:48:00] something about myself that I hadn't discovered before, and it becomes so much more about that than the actual piece itself, the actual art itself.
So that's something that is wondrous to me. I think it's just magical that you can say, oh, I'm gonna do this piece of art that I've never done before. And in the process of doing it, you've just find out about more about yourself than anything else.
Tara: Mm, absolutely. Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Yeah. And it's such a relief in its way when you realize that that is part of the point.
Tara: Because it just frees you to be process oriented.
And I don't think art ever really works when it's not process oriented, but somehow I still manage to, I don't know.
There's always deeper into that awareness to go for me. Like there's always some part of me when [00:49:00] I'm creating something, I guess that needs to be reminded of that.
I guess that I realized that that is a way, like that's sometimes finding my way into a piece of work can be just about like committing to the process and not, you know, I don't have to have decided what forms something will take. I like the notion of a letting the theme decide the form makes a lot of sense. Like the content I think often decides the form.
But I felt like this sort of took it to another level and that it's also fine to just sort of dive in, with your process being your prompt, essentially.
Tara, thank you and thank you for this wonderful project. And for our listeners, I will post a couple of pictures in the show notes so you can see what Tara and I did come up with. [00:50:00]
Tara, in your writing to me. I really loved your closing thoughts and I'm wondering if you could read the last paragraph that starts with, “It feels like a privilege…”
It feels like a privilege to me now. That there are still places on earth where we humans get to leave behind the world. We have built and spent some time with the feeling of being outnumbered by other species. It's how I feel when I spend a lot of time among dogs too. What a gift to be outnumbered in this way. An infant among giants.
What is there to do, but do our best to learn their language? What begins out of necessity becomes a portal to new perceptions and experiences. I wish for this fluency from time to time. I wish it for all of us in time.
Tuesday Aug 29, 2023
Tuesday Aug 29, 2023
Tuesday Aug 29, 2023
In this episode, I've invited my friend Tina to come up with a theme or project that we could do together. We decided to each make a Spirit Doll for our respective studio spaces. I hope you will enjoy hearing about our project as much as we did doing it.
Links mentioned in this podcast
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
They Might Be Giants
Some of these links are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from them.
Tina's spirit doll Cosmos
Thomas' spirit doll Perserverance
Thomas: My guest today is Tina Hoff. Welcome to the podcast, Tina.
Tina: Thanks, Thomas. It's good to be here.
Thomas: I am happy that you're here. Tina is a creative writer, a poet and a playwright, and she practices art journaling. Tina recently introduced me to the concept of the six-word story. The idea is to find six words that can tell a complete story. It's harder than it sounds, but it's really quite fun.
Tina, when I sent you this invitation to You And I Make A Thing you wrote back, "This sounds fun and I'm honored that you would ask. It also terrifies me, which is probably why I should try it."
I'm wondering if you could elaborate what you mean by that, what you were feeling when you got the invitation?
Tina: Well, I guess I should start off by saying I'm usually terrified by new things. So I'm an introvert and, stepping out of my comfort zone is not easy. But you know, you and I talk regularly, and talk about creativity and share things. And that's easy because it's one-on-one.
But I don't really feel comfortable talking about all this as if I'm an artist, talking about my work outside of just close friends. And also I think, even that introduction you gave me, I think, “Am I all those things?”
Because I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome, you know? And over the last, oh, however many years, however old my kids are, I haven't done a whole lot of those things.
And so, although I really feel like that's who I am deep down, calling me those things is a little bit strange to me. I think also Thomas, knowing you, you've tried so many different things and I am sort of just a writer by nature and that's where I kind of stay. I stay in that lane and it's a very solitary thing. And you sit there and you write something out and then maybe you share it.
And even though I've done playwriting with a playwrights group and we did have our scenes performed for an audience at two different festivals that we held, which is fun, but you know, I get actors to do that for me, right? And we talked a little bit afterwards, took audience questions, which was fine.
You've tried so many different things. When you talked about us trying to come up with something that we could both try that we hadn't, I thought, wow, I could try almost anything and I haven't done it before. But coming up with something that maybe you have not done, would probably be difficult.
Thomas: I think we're gonna come up with something. There are so many things I'd like to try, so, but thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it.
You mentioned, imposter syndrome and my gosh, I feel that all the time. And you know, part of doing this You And I Make A Thing and trying something that we've never done before, is really a part of trying to deal with that, right?
At least the way I feel is, the more that I try new things, I still bump up against imposter syndrome every single time. But it becomes like a practice, or a dance I should say. So that's really why I'm trying to do this, is to dance well with my imposter, I guess is the way to put it.
Tina: Well, I think that's what your invitation felt like to me. And also I think my imposter syndrome comes from a place where it comes from for a lot of people, which is, well, I only do it sporadically in little spurts. You know, it's not a daily practice, it's not a regular thing.
I fight with myself about wanting to do it badly and not finding time or being afraid it's not going to be good when I finally sit down because I haven't made it a regular practice.
So actually having this event between us happening gives me a reason to do it and a timeframe to do it in. So that's probably good.
Thomas: Well, let's jump in and find a thing to make.
Tina: All right. Sounds good.
Thomas: So Tina and I have not decided on something of ahead of time, right? The point of what we're doing right now is to be in the moment and to improvise an idea. So I've asked Tina to come up with three things that she might like to do, and I also have a list here of three things. So let's jump right in, Tina.
Do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
Tina: I'll go first. So again, because I'm a writer and it's just a solitary thing in your head that you put down on paper, I don't tend to do a lot with my hands or rely on my hands to make art. That's kind of why I think I took up art journaling. It's just kind of free up that part of myself and be like the little kids scribbling in the coloring book again. And not worry about whether my hands do the right thing.
So, I thought maybe trying something that uses my hands. And I have seen this before when I've been surfing around, watching videos and it's making a spirit doll.
Thomas: A spirit doll?
Tina: Yes. So it's sort of a spiritual exercise, but a creative exercise too, where you go out in nature and you find maybe some branches or twigs. And that's where you start. And they could be from a tree that you have in your yard or a place that you go that's sacred to you.
And basically you form them into the shape of a body. And then you start decorating and making a real, 3D body out of that.
So it might be strips of fabric or anything else you might have lying around. And you build up the body and make it a body. You might add a face of some sort, which could be just a disk of some sort, like out of wood.
Tina: Some people make a clay face and paint it. Whatever it is, arms which might be other twigs or branches that you find. And then you can just decorate it with anything that feels right to you.
And then it can become a symbolic sort of figure for yourself or for your spiritual path or whatever, whatever calls to you. And then it's something you can keep on, if you have an altar, something that you keep sacred things on, or maybe just on your art table to remind you that you are a creative spirit, and you're connected to all these things.
Thomas: Wow. I love that. And you know, there's a part of me that's really smiling because I have bags of twigs in my garage here. Because I make trees for my model railroad. So I probably have a hundred candidate branches already in my garage for this.
I've never heard of this before. This is actually really great. I can imagine it coming together. I mean, I know that my spirit doll would be totally wild. I'm just imagining wild colors and stuff like that. I love that.
Thomas: I love that.
Tina: And of course it's unique to each person, so that'd be fun. No rules. Except what feels good?
Thomas: Right, right.
Thomas: All right, well thank you for that. Let's bookmark that one, and let's bounce back and forth with our ideas.
So I'm gonna, say one right now that I've been sort of thinking about for a while. Are you familiar with the Mayan hieroglyphs?
Tina: No, I don't think I am.
Thomas: So what's interesting about the Mayan hieroglyphs or the glyph system that they use is that they're sort of square and they have some sort of image in it, and they put them on these, they're called stelae. It's like these upright pillars or whatever that they write, they also have the books that they wrote in, on bark I believe.
And what's unique about their writing system is that the hieroglyph can represent either a phoneme or an actual idea, concept, or a word.
But when they were drawing it, they had a great amount of freedom in how to express a particular glyph. So for instance, let's say a glyph consisted of a mouth and an arm and a couple of eyes, right? And that meant something. Let's say that meant, I'm just picking a word, like “tree”.
The writer had complete freedom in deciding where to put the eyes and where to put the arm and where to put the mouth.
And this is what stumped people for the longest time, because they would see all these different glyphs and they all kind of looked different. But what they finally realized is that as long as the glyph had an arm and eyes and mouth, it didn't matter what position they were in, it was the same concept. It was the same word.
The reason I mention all of this is because to me, there's something like beautiful about being able to take a word and have total freedom in the way you design it.
So let's say you take the word, love, okay. L O V E, right? You could take the letters, L O V E and you can just put them in, different orders or different places within the square, but it would always mean the same thing.
So I was thinking to come up with some sort of a word picture using glyphs. Sort of inspired by the Mayan glyphs, but using English words or English letters or something like that.
It's not an entirely well-formed idea, but that would be something that we could work on and how to, flesh it out and, and make something with it.
Tina: Yeah. That's interesting. It just reminds me of writers can write a whole page about loneliness, but there's different words on every page for every writer about what loneliness is.
Thomas: Right, right.
Tina: That's interesting.
Thomas: Yeah. All right. what's your next idea?
Tina: Well, I've always loved pop-up books, and I've never tried to make a pop-up spread. And it fascinates me. So I would love to sort of learn how those are put together.
You know, obviously we couldn't do a whole book, Thomas. We would be here for a year, but maybe one spread just to try it out.
I have an idea that is actually, sort of builds on that.
Tina: Oh, nice.
Thomas: Do you want to hear it?
Tina: I do, I do.
Thomas: So I've mentioned this in a previous episode of my podcast and there's this wonderful book, Griffin and Sabine. Have you read it?
Tina: Oh, I have, yes. I have that from long ago and I do love it.
Thomas: And the idea is that it's two people that were mailing each other cards and letters. And the book itself, it is sort of like a pop-up book. There are actually envelopes inside and you can pull out the letters.
And the twist that I'm thinking about is, what would the story be like if there were like a magical mailbox, then two people could be communicating to each other over time. Like, you know, one person in the 19th century and the other person's in the 21st century. Right?
Thomas: And what would the tension be there? Like the, the person in the 21st century might not want to reveal things to the person in the 19th century. You know, things like that.
Tina: That could be fun,
Tina: Yeah. Hmm. Now you have me thinking.
Thomas: What's your third idea?
Tina: So, you know, I have a son who makes films and he likes to write scripts too. He takes after mom, which is great. I love that he takes after me a little bit. But I think trying to make a mini film, that's a lot of things to learn.
So I thought instead, could you create a graphic novel?
And since I don't draw very well, I thought, I wonder if you can make a graphic novel out of photographs.
And I actually just googled it a little bit because I thought, “Hmm, I'm sure someone's done that.” And I found that, I think it said in the forties, and then it moved through fifties, sixties. I think there was more some in the seventies, all the way up to the nineties that some people had done this, from film stills.
I think it was an Italian artist and a French artist were the first ones I saw. And they literally just used photographs and it was people in all of them.
And a lot of them were romantic stories, which we don't have to do that theme at all. But I was always thinking, it's almost like creating a storyboard for a movie without making the movie, and without having to draw it.
Thomas: Because it's photographs you're using. Sort of a found object, yeah.
Tina: Yeah. So, that was an idea that I had too.
Thomas: You know where that takes me? Tina, there's this wonderful store that we have here in San Francisco called ScrapSF. And people come and donate art supplies to it. Literally, you just go and you donate stuff that you can't use anymore. And then it's sold for very little to teachers and artists and all that.
And one of the things they have there is they have this huge bin of photographic slides. And they even have a little light table so you can look at what's there.
And I've stood there for like half an hour at a time, just staring at these slides. You know, some of them are like from the 1950s, people visiting Italy.
And, and then there's more personal stuff. It's family photos and all that. That's, that's sort of what it reminds me of.
Tina: Mm-hmm. I found a store, it's actually an antique store in Ithaca, New York, which is where my son ended up going to college, and we were there visiting.
And they had of course a whole cart outside the store that was piled with boxes and it was all old photographs. Some of them going back to the early 19 hundreds, some even earlier than that.
And some of them were from old photo studios that had been privately owned around, I guess, upper New York state over the years that it closed.
So they were like the photo cards that they would use for their marketing, some of them. But some of them had personal notes written on them when the person gave the photo to someone else.
And I did end up buying some to use for art journaling as well. You know, not to cut them, because that would break my heart. But to scan them and use images of them.
So, yeah, I also sat in front of that cart for hours. Actually, I stood, there was no chair, but I stood and I kept making little piles and more little piles of the ones I was interested in.
It took quite a while for me to narrow down my options there. So I'm like you, I could definitely get lost in images in a little store somewhere.
Thomas: Wow. I have one more thing to go, but I have to say is like, I want to do all of these at, at some point I want to do all of these. Right.
Tina: That's the problem.
Thomas: It's great!
Tina: It's a good problem to have, yeah.
Thomas: Well, my last idea is to write a song in the style of They Might Be Giants. I love They Might Be Giants.
The words that they use or the phrases are, I guess the idea that comes up for me is like non-sequitur. They come up with words that are so weird and crazy.
I mean, like this phrase from Anna Ing, “I don't want the world, I just want your half.”
Yeah. So anyway, that's my third idea, to write a song.
There’s so much here. I like the spirit doll. I like the idea of popup books.
And also creating a storyboard from found photographs. Sounds good too.
What are you thinking? Has anything come up for you as like, “yeah, let's try that!”
Tina: Well, of course the writer in me loves the Griffin and Sabine idea.
The writing a song in the style of They Might Be Giants, terrifies me. Well, it could be, I guess it could be like writing a poem, right? I guess it's the music part that I think, oh, I would be terrible at that. But yeah, I might be able to write lyrics.
The Mayan hieroglyphs sound interesting to me too.
So I don't know that I can make a clear decision.
Thomas, you know, I am feeling a little drawn to the spirit doll, I have to say. And then I think second in line might be Griffin and Sabine, or the graphic novel or maybe a weird combination of the two. I don't know.
Thomas: Yeah, let's think about what a weird combination might be.
Tina: Hmm. Yeah.
Thomas: I'm trying to think of how the spirit doll might fit into any of the others.
Tina: Yeah. That's an interesting idea Thomas.
Thomas: Well, let's do this, Tina. What do you think about this idea?
I'd love to make a spirit doll. I love the hands on, just making something, and also making something that sort of represents creativity and the muses that seem to be swirling around.
And, and I like the idea of storytelling, Griffin and Sabine style. So there might be something where we can just combine the two.
Maybe the spirit doll will point us in that direction? What do you think?
Tina: I think anything's possible with the spirit doll.
Thomas: Yeah. well, let's try that. I think we have our idea, Tina.
Tina: Yeah, I think that, could work Thomas.
Thomas: Yeah, in fact, let's do this. Let's go ahead and both you and I can start working on the spirit doll and start building it.
And as we build it, we can be communicating back and forth and we'll get some clarity about how we want to use that in a Griffin and Sabine style storytelling. How about that?
Tina: That works for me. Let the spirit be our guide, Thomas.
Thomas: Exactly. Yeah.
I like that it includes a storytelling element to it because I'm always interested in learning more about that and experiencing it. Experiencing the creating of stories,
Tina: Well, that's right up my alley, Thomas. So we're going to get a piece of each other's worlds here.
Thomas: Yeah. I'm excited!
Tina: Yeah, I'm excited too now!
Thomas: Both Tina and I were genuinely excited when we recorded the first part of our Spirit Doll journey in March. Little did we know that it would take us the better of five months to complete our project. As you will hear in the second part of our conversation, sometimes it just takes time gestate an idea before it can be fully expressed…
Thomas: So, Tina, welcome back. It's so good to have you back. It's been a while since we've spoken last. And I’m just wondering how are you doing?
Tina: Well, thanks, Thomas. It's good to hang out with you again. It has been quite a while. It took us a while to do this project, didn't it?
Thomas: It sure did, and I wanted to ask you about that. It's like sometimes, we have our intentions and, then things happen. We just have to set aside what our project is.
So first of all, I have to say that I'm just super impressed with both of our spirit dolls. They're beautiful. And I'm excited with my spirit doll. It's going to be basically in my studio space going forward, and I know that you have your spirit doll in your studio space as well.
Tina: Yeah, she's right behind me, and I love seeing yours as well, Thomas, when we talk.
Thomas: Let's start by describing our dolls and then we can go into what it was like to make them. How about that?
Tina: Okay, that works.
Thomas: Why don't you describe yours?
Tina: So my doll is made of some branches, or I guess maybe twigs from a really big old tree in the yard next door, which has special meaning to me. And then some branches from our grape arbor that's in our yard that's also very ancient.
And I bound them together. Has a very feminine shape in the body. And some fabric wrapped around and it looks like a dress.
The body has some curves to it. That was intentional. I wanted it to be very female.
Thomas: Mm hmm.
Tina: And then, at first I had some sort of curved branches coming out the top. They were connected to the branches inside the body and I envisioned wings for that.
So they are still there, but at one point I actually cut them off and then made them detachable. She does have wings that are removable.
And then I sculpted a face out of, I think polymer clay. And I have more of the pieces of branches around her face, sort of like rays of the sun, I guess, and sort of some crown like adornments on the top.
So I have some dried sage that I had in my yard. And then some feathers, some pine cones, some seed pods from a tree. I have all kinds of things as part of her.
And then I also fashioned a spear out of a broken piece of a crystal I had and another piece of branch and some feathers. So that's what she looks like.
Thomas: And I notice the arms are pretty much straight out, like in a very welcoming pose.
Thomas: You mentioned that it is a very female figure. Can you, tell us a little bit of what you were wanting to express with that?
Tina: So I'm at a stage in my life where there's a lot of transition, so I'm in that, menopausal stage, I guess. I have a son who's left home for college and another one that will leave soon. And so I think when we started talking about the spirit doll, my intention was to find that I guess wholeness in myself.
Thomas: Mm hmm.
Tina: I feel life is lacking right now because everything's in flux, everything's changing. I feel like at this stage I'm getting rid of a lot of stuff that I don't want anymore, but I haven't quite gathered up what I do want or figured all of that out yet.
So I thought if I can make this female figure that embodies the unity of all those parts of us, the parts we love and don't love and the parts we struggle with and the parts we wish we had more of, if I could make this doll that had all those things in one place and was a very unified sort of goddess like figure, that that would make me, I guess, trust that that will happen for me too at some point.
So that was sort of the feeling I went into it with. Of finding that purpose and that unity in myself again, somehow,
Thomas: That's a very powerful figure.
Tina: Yeah, I didn't know how she would turn out, but she feels that way to me. Yes.
Thomas: I can see that. Well, my, spirit do started out as basically some things that I found on the beach. I was beach combing and I found, of all things, some palm fronds and the stems of where the palm dates, you know, palms have flowers and then they produce dates.
And these stems are very, um, zigzaggy, if I can say, sort of clustered and zigzaggy.
And I knew right away when I found it that I wanted to do something with that. So the stems became the hair, it's almost like hair, but it's also a symbolic crown, if you will.
And the rest of it is made with some branches that came from the backyard. I bound them together with some string.
And I fashioned the face, it's out of paper mache actually and painted it sort of a light blue.
And then I covered the body with some old faux fur and some other fabric strips. There's a lot of sewing that goes on in my family here. A lot of costumes are being made. And so, so almost every week there's bags of little strips and and leftovers and I snag those out of the garbage.
Sometimes they're sparkly like the strips that I have on my spirit doll are red and gold. They come from sort of a Asian or Chinese fabric.
What else can I say about my spirit doll? Like we were saying it took a long time for us to finish our dolls and part of it is, I just had to sit with it, and understand like, what is this doll becoming and what is it telling me?
And in the, it basically, there was a strong message. I was watching a documentary of something. And what came through for me was this idea of perseverance, of just sticking with it.
And even though the project took a long, long time, I just got this overwhelming sense of sticking with it and perseverance.
And so that's what I named my spirit doll, Perseverance.
The doll itself has some female features and some male features. I have not assigned it a gender. It is more of a spirit to me. So it's more of something that's going to remind me to stick with my projects, my many, many projects.
And so in that sense, I'm really happy to have made it and to have it as a part of my studio space.
And one thing I have to say is, the stems that go up that are the hair or the crown above the head… I painted them in such a way to look like a flame. At the bottom it's sort of blue, in the middle it's red, and the top it's yellow.
And that was intentional because I am always coming up with new ideas of stuff to do. And I wanted Perseverance to sort of embody that as well, as an acknowledgement that it's okay to have ideas, even as I endeavor to not be distracted with lots of new ideas, and stick with the projects that I'm already doing.
Tina: One, what I love about your flame that's coming out… Well, first of all, I love the palm fronds, and I thought it was cool that we both live in very different places. So you had materials where you live that I would never find here, you know? So you have very different looking materials for your spirit doll than I would have here. So I love that.
But every time I look at yours, I literally hear and feel the sense of that whoosh sound that happens when you light a match, you know what I mean?
And I get this feeling like, here we go, right? But then it's constant too. It's not just the ignition, it's that glorious shock of stuff above the head that's just there, you know?
So, Perseverance is a great name for your figure. I love it.
Thomas: Thank you.
Tina: And the open arms. You have the branches that look like open hands up to the sky. Like, hey, I'm gonna catch everything that's coming, you know?
Thomas: Yup. How did it feel to make the spirit doll to actually work with your hands?
Tina: Well, I had a lot of fear about that in the beginning and sort of throughout that came back, because I'm a writer by nature and the extent of how a writer uses their body as their brain and their fingers for typing.
So there's not a lot of, you know, forming things with your hands. And so I'm sort of uncomfortable with that idea. I don't feel good at it. I don't feel mechanically inclined.
And so I thought, “How am I going to make this?” I don't even know how to put things together, you know.
But what kept happening, and I guess it's good that it happened, there were big, like you said, we had big breaks in between in our process.
And I remember getting the materials together that I wanted to use for the body and getting some other stuff that I thought I might want to use. And then when I started, I was sort of a deer in headlights, like, how do I even start?
But I would just start and every time my brain would be like, wait, wait, what if this doesn't work? Oh, when I'm trying to attach things and they're not attaching well, or the, the substance, you know, I was using hot glue and other things.
And I'm like, okay, that really didn't hold the way I thought that was going to hold. And instead of letting myself sort of panic about that, I would just be like, well, just keep figuring it out. You know, just keep doing it.
And I would just shut that voice up and, keep going and it became, I realized, it became instinctual. So it was just like at every point when I'd finish doing one piece or attaching something, I would look over and, you know, feel my pieces or pick up certain things and it would just feel like, oh, this should go here. This should go there. And I just kept going with that.
And that actually became the process each time I sat down with it. So I would I would literally work on it for a couple of hours at a time, usually, and then get tired and stop.
And then there would be a long period of just letting it sit on the table and the fear would come back because I'd look at it and I'd be like, Oh my goodness, what am I going to do next? And how am I going to put these other pieces together that I have ideas for?
And especially when we got to things like the face. Which I have never made a face before, and I've never, I have tried to draw in my lifetime, and I like the idea of drawing, and I've learned to draw some things, but I'm not great at it, and I love, I'm fascinated by faces.
So the idea, though, of making a three dimensional face was terrifying too. So, that's probably a long answer to what you asked, but that became my process every time I sat down, was to panic first, then just start doing it, and then just keep following my instincts.
And, you know, it seemed that at each point I somehow figured it out, somehow figured out how to make things stick together, how to make things, attach to each other, where to place things, what things to place where. A
And then when I made the face, I don't know, I watched a couple YouTube videos, I looked up some things, but in the end I just sculpted it till it felt right, and it worked. So, yeah.
Thomas: So how did you feel once you saw that face, when it took form?
Tina: Well, I got excited, but what I usually do, this is just being inside my head, is anytime I get really excited about something, especially if it's art related, is there's a voice that immediately wants to tamp that down.
And I think it's like the fear of disappointment, like don't get too excited because the disappointment will hurt more, you know, and so I would get excited in the midst of it and then try to calm that down. Like, okay, just calm down. Don't think about that right now. Just keep going, you know. B
But when I got done, I remember we were actually on a little trip away from home. So I had to transport the face back home, and it needed to be baked. And I thought, oh, it's going to get ruined on the way home, you know, and it didn't.
And then I got home, and I had to read about baking it, and I thought, oh, there's all kinds of things that could go wrong in the oven, right? And none of those things happened.
So I guess at every step, I kept thinking maybe it's okay to get excited because it seems that if you just let yourself go with the instinct that you will figure it out.
And even if there's a problem, like I had minor issues when I was doing that, it's like, well, who cares if it still works? If you can find a way to make it work, it'll still work. It'll be fine.
And so that was my experience, especially with the face as well.
Thomas: Yeah, mine came together fairly quickly. Well, the initial part, the branches. And you had sent me some resources on spirit dolls, and there was a particular face that I saw in there that I used as a pattern.
But then it sat forever. The next step for me was to do painting and to make the cloak with the fabric and stuff. And that sort of stumped me for a while. It just was sitting there with this Ziploc bag full of fabrics and was sitting in the basement just sort of staring at me and it's like, hmm.
But I was fairly pleased with how the face turned out. I've never done that before. I've never molded a face like that before, but I just worked at it. A
And because it's paper mache, what I like about it is it's a slow medium. You can work it and you can change it and because it takes three, four, five days for it to really harden.
But it did take forever for me to finally get to it and say, okay, this is what I'm going to do in terms of actually making the cloak around it.
So how did you feel when it was all finished?
Tina: Actually, I'm trying to think. I think I was a little sad it was over, to be honest. I guess “over” in quotes, right? It doesn't have to be over, but, I was excited at how it came out because I did have a couple issues on the way that I had to figure out, like, once I got done the face.
I had a whole idea of how I wanted the head to be and realized that with the branches sticking out that were making wings, here's where I was learning my mechanical skills, I guess.
Some of these things are just in slightly the wrong place, you know, they just don't quite work where they are. So at one point I had to make a decision to cut the wings or cut the branches coming out of the top that were going to be my wings. And then I also had to figure out a way to attach that base that it was in the right spot.
And that took some figuring out. So I think I was also just excited that all those different pieces did come together, and it's a coherent piece, and it actually looks right. And “right” in quotes.
It looks like a figure. It looks like I imagined that it might look, with some surprises along the way, because I don't think you ever really know how it's going to look from the beginning. I don't think we planned that out, Thomas, each little piece, right? It just sort of happens along the way. So that was kind of fun.
That was kind of exciting when you get done and you stand back and you look at the whole thing and you're like, wow, how did that even happen? You know, how did that even come together?
And somehow I think when you look at it, and I think you probably feel this way about yours is, well, it came together exactly as it should have.
Thomas: Mm hmm. Yeah, there wasn't a plan, like I didn't draw anything for it. I was literally just starting to put things together and sort of seeing in relation how they look.
And, you know, I still wasn't quite sure how that thing on the top of his head, all those branches coming out of the top of his head, how that would eventually look. I didn't go into it thinking, oh, yeah, there's going to be a flame,
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: But at some point I looked at it and said, that sort of looks like a flame and it has the right energy of a flame, you know, in terms of what I was trying to do.
I was just really happy when it was finished. I looked at it and said, yeah, this is, this is exactly what it needs to be, you know?
Tina: Well after it was finished, I did sit down and sort of write out some of my experiences. Because, of course, that's how I make sense of the world is writing.
And it occurred to me that the structure of the spirit doll is like layers, you know, like you build that core body, whatever you want to call it, that figure. And then you just layer on top the figure of clothes or body and then the face and head and all these things.
And what I wrote down was, the structure is stronger the more layers it has. just like our years of experience and wisdom that we wrap around ourselves give us strength and confidence. The confidence that things will hold together, even if things change or fall apart.
And I wrote that out and then looked at it and said, well that feels so right. Because, you know, at every stage when I'm trying to attach things and thinking this is going to fall apart, right? This is not going to work. It didn't, it all held together and it makes sense and like we just talked about you stand back and look at it and you say, “Oh, well it came out as it should,” or “This is as it should be, it just feels right.”
So when I wrote that out after looking at it after it was done, it felt like sort of a closure for me or a that that unified thing I was trying to find. I did find it through this process. I feel like on some level just sitting with that and sitting with the figure and then writing that down made me feel that really deeply.
Thomas: I'm glad to hear that. And there's also another layer that we can sort of speak to here and that this is now going to be a part of us going forward, right? It's part of our studios. It's another layer, if you will, of our creativity that we've built. And now it's going to be with us going forward.
Tina: Yeah, and you named yours Perseverance, but I feel like when I look at mine, I see that too, because that was the experience of the project right just sticking with it through the doubt and the uncertainty. I'd also occurred to me that.
So one of my favorite quotes is from Flannery O'Connor. And she said, the basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode.
And I feel like making art, this happens with writing for me, but I didn't, I guess I didn't realize it would also happen with something like this. Where, in the process of making art you're taking the truth of things that you know and putting it together so that you can see and hear it. You know, out loud in some way.
So it's like, you know it inside, but you don't really know it until you produce it and make it and look at it. And if it's music, listen to it. And so it's like the truth is made conscious for you. So I feel like, Oh, there's this figure on the wall, you know, that's a truth I came to.
It was in there, I just didn't know it until she came out, you know? So that's comforting to me too, the way things all sort of eventually tie together in some way.
Thomas: We had also spoken about having a writing element as part of this project, and eventually what we decided to do was to write in the voice of our spirit dolls to the other spirit doll. And I found that to be an absolutely wonderful experience. How did you experience that?
Tina: Well, I think I didn't quite know what her voice should be. Then I got your note from Perseverance and actually you inspired me to find her voice and write back to you. So it was, I kind of had to wait for you, Thomas, to spark that for me, which is weird because that was the writing element, which I thought I felt so comfortable with
And that was the part that I was kind of just a little bit blank on by the end, you know, and maybe it was because this was a more of a hands on process and not writing. So maybe I just had trouble switching gears back, you know, to the writing piece. I don't know.
Thomas: It took me a while to sort of understand it is what Perseverance wanted to say, but then as I sat with it, I just realized it really was more about acknowledgment, really.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: That's sort of the direction it took. I'm glad we did that. I'm glad we added that element to it. Because I think it provided a certain amount of closure to the process of making the spirit dolls.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: Not that it needed closure, but it was sort of a nice little final note to it.
Tina: Yeah, I think acknowledgement, like the word you used, acknowledgement fits because it was almost like the spirit doll saying, I see you, you know, this thing that came out of nothing that was created. I see you and I understand who you are,
Thomas: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Tina: Kind of, kind of cool that way. Yeah.
Tina: So did you come to any truth, Thomas, through this process, or the truth made conscious? Did you discover a truth you already knew by hand?
Thomas: That's a great question. I liked what you said about being both mode and matter. And what I went right to was mode.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: As you know, I really like to make things with my hands. So, for me, a lot of that truth is in the mode, is in the making. and I guess what I can say about that is that for me, making is about discovery.
Because I don't hesitate when I start making stuff. I just say, okay, well, what am I going to do? Okay, I'm going to get some rope or I'm going to get some string, or let's see, what's the best way to attach this?
Or, you know, all of those questions are answered in the moment of making. So I guess for me that the truth is really more in that moment of making, in a moment of working with my hands.
And at the point that's kind of hard to describe actually as I'm trying to describe it but, it's who I am. In terms of the type of art that I want to make and what I want to do going forward. There's something about working with my hands and, and seeing something in my hands. That's where my truth is actually, even more so than the final product often times.
Tina: Mm hmm.
Thomas: It's those moments of creation, I guess is the best way to put it.
Tina: Yeah, I feel like I got to experience that for the first time, you know. It's familiar to me when I'm writing, and it is hard to describe, you're right, but what you described in the making, the physical part, yeah, I experienced that a little bit, too, for the first time.
Thomas: And that's why I think it's important for all of us as artists to try all these different modes. You know, writing for me is a... I was going to say struggle. It's not a struggle, but it's, it's definitely not as fluid as making something with my hands. And yet it is, as you say, it's creating in exactly the same way.
And that's why I like trying so many different things, whether it's printing or drawing or gluing or writing. Those are all ways of being with truth in the moment.
Tina: Yeah, yeah, it's like a form of meditation, sort of, you know.
Thomas: It really is. Well, Tina, this has been so wonderful, and, uh, I really want to thank you for being my partner in making spirit dolls. And just your willingness to try something that you've never done before. So thank you for that.
Tina: You know I love hanging out with you and talking about this stuff, but, I think this is the first time that you've given me a project. And I love it because you nurtured that along and let me experience this for the first time, so that was very wonderful. Thank you.
Thomas: Thanks, Tina. Okay, take care.
Tina: Thank you. Bye.
Saturday Aug 26, 2023
Saturday Aug 26, 2023
Saturday Aug 26, 2023
Hello and welcome to You And I Make A Thing. I'm your host, Thomas Beutel.
In this first episode, I want to tell you a little bit about why I'm doing this podcast. You might already know me from the Creative Shoofly podcast. And you might be wondering why I’m starting another podcast?
Well, I've been enjoying making the Creative Shoofly and in particular episodes where I've invited guests to talk about their creative process. I'm also a fan of improv. And I wondered if there was some way to be more improvisational with my guests.
One day back in 2022, I had a spark of an idea. How about inviting my fellow artists to make something that neither of us have made before? That spark is how You And I Make A Thing was born.
But it still had to figure some things out. How would we come up with the idea? Would there be prompts? When would we actually make the project? Would the episodes be split up between idea genesis and finishing the project, or would they be combined?
After mulling over the idea for a few months, I decided to use the following format: I invite my guest, and before recording, I ask them to write down three things that they might want to try making. Things that they've thought about, but have never tried. I also make a list of three things.
And in the first half of the episode, we compare our lists and see what things are in common. The project could be collaborative, something we work on together. Or it could be something we work on solo, as long as it is something that neither of us have done before.
Once the project is done, we record the second half of the episode. And we talk about what we made and the struggles we encountered.
I can't tell you how exciting it was to land on this idea! Now that I've completed a few episodes, how much fun has been so far!
Each episode is a surprise. I go into each episode, not knowing what project I'll be working on, only that I'll be working on something that I've never done before.
And for someone like me, who loves to try new things, I get super excited before each episode starts.
Now my original goal was to be able to finish our projects in a few weeks’ time, so that I could have maybe one episode a month. What I've discovered though, is that many of these projects take many months to complete.
And that's the main reason the episodes are not split up between idea genesis and project completion. There would simply be too large of a gap between them.
So for the sake of you, my listeners, you will hear us come up with the idea and then finish the idea in the same episode, regardless of how many months the project takes.
That also means that episodes will be released sporadically. My plan is to have several projects in the works simultaneously. It puts extra pressure on me, but I would love to be able to publish one episode a month. We'll see if I'm able to manage that.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy You And I Make A Thing.
I will be rebroadcasting a couple of You And I Make A Thing episodes that I had already recorded on the Creative Shoofly. And I also have a brand-new episode coming shortly.
If you're on Instagram, connect with me @beutelevision. And tell me about your creative endeavors.
And if you enjoy the podcast, please consider leaving a review and sharing the podcast with other art enthusiasts. Your support helps me continue to bring these creative explorations to life.
Thank you for listening. And keep making, keep exploring, and keep surprising yourself.